Moscow recently had its heaviest snowfall since record-keeping began in the 19th century. The storm snarled the city's horrendous traffic, closed airports and forced pedestrians to wade through high drifts. Local public services were unable to cope. Now the Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has proposed fining the weather service every time it gets a forecast wrong. Officials at the weather service, which is funded by the city, reacted coolly.
None of us likes uncertainty. Never quite knowing what the future will bring can make us anxious and, like the Mayor, we may want someone to blame when things donít turn out as expected. In our family life, at work, in the organisations we belong to, we like those on whom we rely to get it right. If they donít, they may well receive the brunt of our disappointment, even when what happened was not their fault.
Jesus tended to upset peopleís certainties. Comments like Ďblessed are the poorí, Ďthe last shall be firstí, Ďitís hard for the rich to enter Godís kingdomí challenged normal assumptions about life. Many of those who had previously felt secure in their status, in this life and the next, found him disturbing. He bore the brunt of their fury when they contributed to his death.
We all live without knowing what the future holds. Learning to deal with that anxiety is an important part of our growth as individuals. Sometimes even what we thought we were sure of is challenged by new truths or new situations. Letís today seek the courage to be open to such new insights and react without rancour when life doesnít go quite as we expected.
At Leeds University, a team has created a plant that lights up when stressed. They found that the thale cress plant reacted physically when, for example, its leaves were torn or it came under attack by bacteria. By mixing the DNA of this plant and the firefly, they developed the glowing plant.
Some people try and avoid giving off any signal that they are feeling stressed. Many feel itís important to appear calm at all times; others fight shy of any sign of weakness. Some hold back from letting on how stressed they are to protect those around them; others would feel they were a failure if they were to admit it even to themselves. The danger of hiding the onset of stress, even from ourselves, is that it can creep up on us in an even more devastating form.
If we are beginning to be aware that someone is under strain, it may be helpful to tell them. We may incur their anger but there are ways of mitigating this and it doesnít mean we were wrong. It may be that we ought to be looking at our own levels of tension and doing something to reduce them. Until someone creates a human being that lights up when stressed, we rely on our friends and our self-awareness to nip it in the bud.
For £350,000 you will soon be able to buy a house which always gets the sun. The French architect Fred Plazar produces homes built on a 14m metal turntable which turns to match the speed of the sun. He describes the technology, no doubt tongue in cheek, as Ďa revolution in housingí. The only drawback is the living space, limited to 200sq m to keep the homes within an average housebuilder's budget.
We may sometimes fancy life would be better if we always faced the sun, if nothing got in the way of the brightness and warmth which we associate with the good times. But the drawback there would also be that such lives would be very limited and confined. Itís often in those times when life feels dark and cheerless that the range of our experience and the depth of our personalities expand.
In the Old Testament, the word used to mean salvation is associated with spaciousness. If we are to be saved from lives which are too small and find the breadth and richness that life offers, times of darkness are inevitable. In the New Testament this truth is epitomised in the way new life comes through the death of Jesus.
Letís today be glad that thereís more to life than constant sunshine and be grateful for what we learn from times of pain and struggle.