Often when we come to the end of the year, we think about slowing down but in the world of social justice, we are often seeing our work speeding up. Christmas is a time of joy for many people but for a minority it can be a time of difficulty, of loneliness, of isolation and of increased poverty. Over the Christmas and New Year period many of our members will be increasing their efforts to bring support to the increasing number of people who face crisis and exclusion at Christmas whether that be families, single homeless, migrants and refugees, children or older people. Like many in the public service sector, the diaconal sector rarely goes on holiday! But we are incredibly thankful to all the volunteers and staff who ensure that services continue over the holidays and who are present with those who need them. They are signs of hope not just to those they serve but to our society as a whole.

This year, we chose as our Christmas message a verse from the Old Testament about shoots, branches and fruits. All are signs of hope. All are signs of new life, of plenty, of flourishing. In the Christian faith, we see that hope as Jesus, born at Christmas to bring new life to the world. For others, just seeing a simple act of kindness, of warmth, of companionship can be enough to bring new life and new hope. In amongst all the busyness of Christmas, we are challenged to take a moment and think about how we are each planting shoots of hope that bear fruit in our world? What are we doing that makes a difference? Volunteers in Diaconia give up a lot of their time to bring hope to others – could you give some time this Christmas to help others? Diaconal staff work every day to give hope with quality services and support – could you support a project near you to bring more services to those in need? Could you spend time with someone who is lonely, help serve a meal or play a board game?

There has been much political upheaval this year – and no doubt more to come in 2019.  What I have realised however is that in all things – services, politics, diplomacy – it is all about how we treat each other and how we value each other. Are we focused on bearing fruit for each other or on chopping down the ‘branches’ of our society to such an extreme that there is no flourishing anymore? Are we planting shoots of growth among each other in how we work together, discuss together and live together? Are we demonstrating a “philia” love for each other that means it is on our benefit to find common ground and common cause? Are we planting roots that will bear fruit for generations to come?

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).

May you and those you love have a Christmas full of fruit, kindness, peacefulness and joy.