To live in the beautiful Manning Valley over the past months has been to live in a community rocked by devastation. The fires have brought loss of life, homes, livelihood and unfortunately a great loss of hope. But these fires were really just the tip of the iceberg – the climax of a far greater problem – this beautiful and once luscious valley is bone dry.
This year, rainy days were so few and far between that my two year old virtually forgot what rain was. And the little rain that did fall from the sky was never enough to soften the dry and cracking ground, bring the grass back to life, feed stock, fill the water tanks, fill the dams, nor fight fires – and the resulting devastation was the outcome.
How should we respond as people of faith? Is there hope? Should we too be rocked to despair in the face of seemingly overwhelming physical, emotional and environmental challenges?
Our thirst for renewing and lifegiving rain has reminded me many times of the powerful words Jesus said to a woman who came out in the heat of the day to collect water. In an interaction that broke all social and cultural boundaries, Jesus revealed himself as the one who would freely give living water to anyone who asked – water he claimed could well up to eternal life.
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
As I collected burnt and blackened leaves on my lawn, which had blown in from the fire front, I thought of how well they symbolise the assault on hope. Blackened leaves have no hope of life, no hope of restoration – even if the heavens opened up and showered them with rain.
But what if they were touched by living water? What if they were touched by the hand of God?
While bleakness may feel like the situation in our valley and in our world, especially in the face of fires and drought, we have hope. We have hope that all things can be redeemed and restored. On a small scale this is seen when people lay down their lives for the safety of others or sit in the ashes of another’s pain.
Thanks for looking after what is most precious.
But we also have hope of restoration that is on a much grander scale. There is hope among the ashes because Jesus promised to bring restoration to the whole world, including his creation, and he has gone before us to show us that death, darkness and fire does not have the last say. The one who was once dead and nailed to the cross, became alive!
This Christmas we are in a state of emergency and as I write, a fire front is quickly approaching the place Zenos Media calls home (the beautiful Blue Mountains) and is currently burning in Lithgow, the place I will call home at the end of January. The fires seem inescapable.
The news that “the saviour has come” is a 2000 year old message, but it is a message we all need to hear this Christmas. No matter what lies before us, no matter how black the landscape, we have a God who gives life – living water in fact – through his Son and it does well up beyond the grave. We therefore have hope that he can bring beauty out of ashes and that he will make all things new again!
By Jenny Hanslow