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Shea Chang

Risking the birth of love

Christmas reminds us to rise to the challenge of hope

By Mardi Tindal

When I imagine the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable, I often picture a midwife by Mary’s side, comforting and coaching.

Birth is a risky business. Madeleine L’Engle, the beloved author of young adult fiction like A Wrinkle in Time, knew this. In 1973, a time when I was newly married and considering whether it would be responsible to bring children into such a troubled world, she wrote an Advent poem called The Risk of Birth. Its arresting first and last lines read, “This is no time for a child to be born. . . . Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.”

Clearly the Judea of 2,000 years ago was no time for a child to be born, yet Love took the risk.

Many today might say that this is no time for a child to be born. But guess who’s been called to the stable to assist in birthing the Christ? None other than you and me. Other remarkable midwives are already at work — women, men, children and youth who dare to believe in the promise of what’s to come. These are the ones who provide comfort and coaching, confident that Love still takes the risk.

The stable holds too many midwives to mention, and yet a few come into focus. This is no time to expect the many elderly members of the United Church Women to be taking on new challenges. Yet there’s Lillian Stewart, engaging with other women of Alberta and Northwest Conference in the Child Well-being Initiative, placing a handmade doll on the desk of every member of the Alberta legislature to promote adequate food and housing for the almost 80,000 Albertan children who live in poverty.

This is no time to expect the church to face the challenge of shrinking congregations housed in energy-draining large buildings. Yet when Seaway Valley Presbytery in southeastern Ontario hoped it might find 500 people to discuss new directions, 800 showed up.

This is no time to expect The United Church of Canada to have a vibrant ministry with youth. Yet in all my decades of involvement with youth ministry, from the first national Youth Forum in 1977, I have never seen so much engagement. Last summer’s Rendez-vous at the University of Toronto gathered more United Church youth, young adults and leaders in one place than ever before. And in that same summer, the GO Project, a community-based United Church youth mission experience, also continued its growth, involving more youth and reaching out to more neighbours.

This is no time to believe that reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians is possible. Yet Mona and Leonard Alexcee, Tsimshian elders and members of Prince Rupert (B.C.) United, joined with others at the recent National Aboriginal Spiritual Gathering in Prince Rupert to testify that new life is possible. Leonard Alexcee spoke of how love enabled him to lay down the heavy baggage of his residential school experience and move forward with respect. The national Truth and Reconciliation Commission invites us all to the birthing of reconciliation wherever we live.

This is no time to believe that the actions of people of faith can make any difference to life-threatening climate and ocean change. Yet wherever the consequences of global warming are felt — whether in floods or in droughts — the church responds and draws attention to the causes of such suffering.

Climate scientists tell me that they count on people of faith to help bring about change. Scientists can provide the knowledge, but facts alone are not enough to motivate new behaviour. They need us to inspire hearts of compassion, so that we will do what is necessary to sustain life.

Midwives to Love gather with me at town halls throughout Canada, bringing their symbols and stories of hope as they take the risk of trying to meet all these challenges. Members of Eden Mills (Ont.) United, for example, are joyfully engaged with their community’s goal to become North America’s first carbon-neutral community. Their exuberance is the kind we long to see at Christmas.

This month, Canadian church leaders are among the World Council of Churches’ delegation to the United Nations climate talks in South Africa. We carry with us a broadly based interfaith call for action on climate change. It’s the first time Canadian faith leaders have made such a common witness. Love still takes the risk.

The United Church has served as midwife to me. As a community of faith, you have helped to birth a deeper hope and love of Christ that is in me today. I am grateful that Love took the risk to break through my doubt, to see babies born and new possibilities of faithfulness emerge. I am grateful to you, midwives of Love.

Mardi Tindal is the 40th moderator of The United Church of Canada.

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