What does this mean to us, here in Canada today, to proclaim good news to the poor and to bind up the broken hearted?

Snowfall in Etobicoke January 2019
Snowfall in Etobicoke, ON this week.
Credit: Nora Sanders
We finally have winter in Toronto. At least, we have had three or four days of winter, with beautiful fresh snow, and temperatures that have many staying inside.

Having lived in the far north, I have all the clothes to keep me warm in the cold weather, so I have been enjoying being out. There is something about winter weather that makes you feel very vigorous, very Canadian. I have to admit to being a little disdainful when I hear the voices on the radio talking about “extreme cold warnings”…I have never actually experienced extreme cold in Toronto.

Of course, that is easy for me to say. I can go outside and enjoy the cold in my winter clothes, and then come back into a warm house with a hot meal in the oven. My viewpoint shifts dramatically when I stop to think about the people in this community, and in communities across Canada, who do not enjoy these comforts.

The 2016 Report by the Canadian Government, State of Homelessness in Canada, estimated that at least 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year. The majority are older adults and seniors, although there are increasing numbers of youth. The number of Indigenous persons who are homeless is disproportionate to their numbers in the overall population. At this time of year, shelter beds are often full to capacity, or beyond capacity. It is one thing to sleep outside under a bridge or in a park in the summer, and something much higher risk in freezing winter temperatures. For many of the people using shelters, there are complex issues that represent struggles with many aspects of life, not just housing.

Even as we each wrestle with what we can do to help, I want to give grateful recognition to the work of the United Church’s community ministries who provide shelter, food, and a variety of programs and supports to people who are facing challenges with the basics of life. Emergency shelter may be the most pressing need this time of year, but the services offered are aimed at providing access to a wide range of supports for daily needs and longer term health and education. If you are a supporter of any of these ministries, either directly or as a contributor to the Mission and Service Fund, you are supporting this work. Thank you.

In this week’s lectionary reading from Luke 4, Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah about the one who comes, “to proclaim good news to the poor and to bind up the broken hearted,” and reveals to those in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth that he is that one.

What does this mean to us, here in Canada in the winter of 2019, as we seek to follow Jesus? I can’t say it better than Eileen, a volunteer at First United Church in Vancouver who described life in that outreach ministry this way, “Everyone treats each other kindly. And it’s like anything: it’s contagious, it catches on. If we show people love and kindness, it might change their lives.” (This quote is from First United's 2016 Christmas newsletter.)

I give thanks for the words of scripture, and for these contemporary words to live by.


 — Nora Sanders is General Secretary of The United Church of Canada. 

This message was originally sent to subscribers to the General Secretary's letter, "Note from Nora." Subscribe here.

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