Well it really felt like 2016 just came and went, didn’t it? Before we knew it the kids were doing the nativity, the carols were going, the Christmas adverts were on, and chocolate became part of the staple diet. Christmas can be a great time of resting and being together with those we love, to reflect on what has passed, whilst looking expectantly into the year ahead with the opportunities that a new year can bring. 

The adverts paint a picture of a very merry Christmas, a perfect Christmas meal with all the family getting along peacefully - largely thanks to a certain brand of gravy. We know in reality, though,  sometimes behind the scenes it can be a different story. The Christmas season may not feel very peaceful, or jolly, and for some families getting through it can be an achievement in itself. Christmas can be tough, the reminder of our lost loved ones, damaged relationships or fragile dynamics. Perhaps as we are getting our heads around the changing situations in our lives, both during the past year or the uncertainty that may hover ahead in 2017, personally or politically. Whether it’s a full scale volcanic eruption or it's just simmering away in the background, it can sometimes be easy for the anxiety and fear to creep in, can’t it? 

It seems that in the messy reality of the Christmas story fear crops up a lot, too. When angels appear to them at different times, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are all told not to be afraid. They must have been terrified. In this story we see God bring His hope to their fearful and fragile situations, with a plan for them, and a plan to bring hope to this broken world through this baby Jesus. His antidote to their fears is His hope. 

Before Christmas, we reflected on the blog about the meaning of Advent and thought about the line in that well known carol: ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight’. Fear and hope can be pretty big drivers for us, as people. Later on in the New Testament part of the Bible, the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and John acknowledge our fears and worries. No taboos or dismissing mental health as unimportant. We are reminded to trust in God, to not worry about tomorrow, to not be afraid, and we are even told how to pray when we are anxious. We are comforted in the assurance that perfect love ultimately drives out fear, that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, and that whilst this world is still broken God’s love will have the last word. It was great to be reminded of this on New Years Day - a reminder that Advent goes beyond Christmas, and that we are still looking ahead with this hope. 

Whatever situations we are experiencing as we go into 2017, I hope that we know the comfort of His peace, and the joy of knowing God’s love, which is wider, deeper and greater than anything we face. 

If you would like to find out more about it, our series on Sunday mornings at Portswood will be looking at this hope. The recordings, as well as those from the Portswood Church services over Christmas can be found on our website.