Advent Day 15: A reflection on life in the health service during Advent

To mark the fifteenth day of Advent, Mark Evans DCS, the president of the Church of Scotland's Diaconate and Head of Spiritual Care for NHS Fife, offers us this heartfelt reflection on working in the health service during Advent and Christmas.

Mark Evans holding a mug of hot chocolate

I'm standing in the annual Christmas market enjoying a hot chocolate; the cold winter air is full of the smell of roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.

The bright lights of the stalls, the glittering tinsel and sparkling decorations merge with the sounds of children laughing, adults chattering and the obligatory I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day blaring out from the fairground rides.

It's like a scene from a Hollywood Christmas movie – all very different from that stable 2000 years ago and a world away from my normal day working in a busy acute hospital.

During Advent it is so easy to get caught up with preparations for the "big day"; cards to be written and presents to be bought and wrapped, shopping for outfits and parties to attend.

It's a time for looking forward, of making plans and of dreaming dreams.

Even in hospital, ward staff bring out Christmas trees and hang up the decorations, staff add tinsel to their uniforms and visiting choirs sing carols.

Amidst it all wounds continue to be dressed and medication prescribed, tests undertaken and patients admitted for surgery.

One of my favourite wards at this time of year is maternity – the smiles of expectant mothers and the laughter of new dads bring a new dimension to traditional carols like Away In A Manger playing in the background.

Nativity scene

Sadly for some parents, this time of year is another reminder of the pain and suffering of loss.

Rather than a time of joy and happiness it becomes a time of sadness and hurt.

As we prepare for the birth of the Christ child, what words of comfort are there for the mother who has lost her child?

No angels sing, no archangels announce the birth, no shepherds visit and there are no wise men bearing their gifts.

All there is are tears and heartbreak; their hopes and dreams are carried away on the bitter winter wind.

And there is nothing which can be said or done to mend the broken hearts.

Yet perhaps in the bleakness of the situation it is not words that the broken-hearted need to hear.

Perhaps they just need to know that people are there, caring for them, sharing their tears, holding their pain, loving them and simply "being" present rather than "doing".

At Advent we prepare for the birth of Christ, the Immanuel – the God who is always with us – sharing our tears and our laughter, our hopes and our fears, whose love shines even in the darkest hours.

For God is indeed with us in the midst of human life.

O God of this time
we wait in darkness
for the light of your love.

O God of the broken-hearted
we wait for the coming of Your Son
and we remember those
whose hearts are breaking
whose time of preparation and joy has been turned to sadness.

O God of the hidden places
the lonely places
the broken places
we wait for Your coming,
to be present with us
Our Christ, our Immanuel.

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