Despite everything, this Christmas there is cause for hope

Barry Gardiner during a question and answer session following Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn's keynote

Barry Gardiner MP. - Credit: PA/Dominic Lipinski

Last Thursday as I sat in the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry about the summer free school meals fiasco, the permanent secretary for education let slip that they were “holding further discussions” about the return of schools in January.

A series of questions followed:

What were the new arrangements? Schools are breaking up today – how do you expect teachers to put new arrangements in place with no notice? Why is the Secretary of State not coming to parliament to answer questions about this from MPs? 

There and then, sitting in the committee, I drafted an email to all the headteachers in my constituency to alert them that a written ministerial statement would be made later that day, throwing all their hopes of a well-deserved rest out with the Christmas wrapping paper. 

One head emailed straight back to tell me that teachers were “in despair”.

That is a word I’ve hear so much of this year that it set me thinking. 

The despair of the young mother whose husband had died of Covid. She had come with her husband to build a new life together in the UK, and now she was left with three children, no right to work and no recourse to public funds.

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The despair of the elderly lady whose 40 year-old autistic daughter was losing her place in residential care because she could not face being there in lockdown without the comfort of a visit from her mother – the only person she knew how to hug.

The despair of young couples who have seen their wedding plans torn up; of retailers who have seen their businesses destroyed, nurses and doctors who have lost colleagues and been at the front line of this wall of human suffering. And now the despair of families, like my own, who will spend Christmas apart for the first time ever.

What has Christmas got to say about a world in which there is such despair? For the Christian, Christmas is the antidote to despair. The Christian mystery of the incarnation is about God becoming a human person – to be with us, to live alongside us and give us hope that there is a way through. The word "despair" comes from the Latin: de (without) and spero (hope). The Christ child is the hope of God in human form. 

This Christmas there is cause for hope. It is in the kindness of neighbours who are looking out for the elderly in their street. It is in the scientists working to develop the vaccines. It is in the dedication of our doctors and nurses who will be working to save life on Christmas Day as on every other day. It is in every person that looks into the face of another human being and sees – not a stranger, not a person down on their luck – but a glimpse, however imperfect, of God in human form.

  • Barry Gardiner is MP for Brent North.

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