There was a point earlier this year where every single media story that we monitored in the Jersey Road PR office (our virtual, working-from-home office…obviously) seemed to include this phrase, as overwhelmed journalists tried to convey the enormity of the situation we were living through.
I don’t know about you, but the word I have said to myself more than any other this year has not been ‘unprecedented’ but rather, ‘relentless’.
I have oftentimes felt exhausted by the news cycle, by the restrictions, by hearing of friends and family who have been ill and those who have passed away. Some of you have lost jobs, maybe others have lost businesses. All of us have shared a common anxiety as we have journeyed through the uncertainty that 2020 has presented.
There has been political uncertainty around the world, the most vulnerable in our communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID, racial division has been exposed again, and many feel alone and a sense of hopelessness.
How can we talk about Christmas at a time like this?
Well, here’s the thing. We know what Christmas has become - it has become Slade, and trees, and Playstations, and Macaulay Culkin. It has become sprouts and turkey, brandy and crackers. It has become spending and excess, and it feels almost grotesque after the year we’ve just experienced.
But that’s not where Christmas came from. These are things we have made it. The origins of Christmas, whether in September, December or some other time are very different.
When Mary gave birth to a baby boy, there was political oppression and tyrannical abuse. When Mary gave birth to a baby boy, there was a longing for a saviour, a Messiah, but that hope must have been weak as year after year no sign came.
In that outhouse, this young couple - Mary having just experienced child birth without the painkillers and without the medical professionals - must have felt exhausted, frightened and alone.
Christmas began in a state of huge uncertainty and hopelessness.
And that is where many of us and those around us are today. It has been a year like no other in our generation - and a year where despite the church buildings being closed for extended periods, the Church has stepped up practically.
At the beginning of December, a BBC journalist who joined one of our team calls recounted a conversation with one of her colleagues who, when hearing about the vast amounts of community support churches have contributed during the pandemic, had asked if there was any way of telling the story without mentioning the Church.
Her response was no. The efforts of the Church in 2020 could not be ignored.
As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society concluded in its report to the Prime Minster,: “The pandemic has given rise to a significant increase in the numbers and depth of relations between local authorities and faith communities…Faith groups and faith-based organisations are integral to the immediate civil society response to the pandemic.”
Other reports have noted that churches have provided more than five million meals per month during lockdown; that the financial value of the services and support that church buildings provide can be calculated at £12.4bn a year; and that one in 20 UK adults started praying during the crisis.
While 2020 has been bruising for many, the Church is stepping up to the plate. Historically, revivals have often occurred in close proximity to crisis. We live in a society that needs purpose and hope. We have supported our communities practically in a time of huge uncertainty.
At this unprecedented time, the Church is following a precedent of hope set by God himself coming to earth to walk with us through our suffering. Let’s keep sharing that hope in the name of the one who gave it to us: God with us. Immanuel.
Gareth Russell is Managing Director of Jersey Road PR. As a business they exist to give voice and influence to faith-based organisations through national, regional and Christian media. Since its formation, the company has worked with charities, businesses and churches in the UK, Australia, and USA securing coverage in outlets such as the BBC, The Times, The Telegraph, Spectator, The Guardian and Sky News. Originally from Glasgow, Gareth now resides in Milton Keynes with his wife Andi, daughter Georgia and labradoodle Archie.