I’ve recently been to a dark and sobering place. I spent ten days at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. It was a great privilege to be there. We heard lectures from a range of international experts outlining how and why the Holocaust happened as it did. The most moving of those was from Gisel Sikovich who survived imprisonment at Auschwitz: we listened to her testimony in stunned silence.
I went with a group of UK clergy, seeking to learn and to see how it should influence our role in churches today. We came from a wide variety of backgrounds and levels of knowledge but that added to the richness of the experience.
I don’t doubt that this trip will strongly influence the way in which I read Scripture, lead worship and preach in the months ahead. You will hear many of these stories. I certainly learnt a lot about the way in which the church was complicit in some of the worst atrocities. I heard some exceptional stories of the way some Christians stood up to the Nazi regime. However, I can’t simply celebrate those achievements: instead I must acknowledge that they demonstrate that consistent church opposition of this sort would have hugely impeded the Nazi plans long before the ‘Final Solution’ was drawn up. I hope that I will be far more alert to the dangers of implicit anti-Semitism in the way we read Scripture – and indeed in some of our hymns. I will certainly wrestle with the way in which we can implicitly suggest that God has rejected the Jewish people. (In response to the question, “Did God reject his people?” Romans 11:1 emphatically answers, “By no means.”)
As we journey through Advent the days are getting darker – and a lot colder here than they were in Jerusalem! We look forward to Christmas: to the coming of the light.
Jesus was born into a world of darkness and fear. God chose to come to earth in the form and weakness of a human baby. God dispels the gloom not through vast supernatural light-shows (apart from the angelic choir that night) but by the lighting of a modest little light.
As you prepare for Christmas, be ready to bring a little light wherever you may be.