When Air New Zealand engineers and other staff signalled a three-day strike starting tomorrow, one week before Christmas, tragic consequences were immediately obvious.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, would likely miss out on a long-anticipated family reunion.  Christmas would be empty for many.

The strike is not happening, but I caught a glimpse of what a strike would have made very unlikely yesterday, travelling back from Auckland after visiting my 99-year old aunt.  The passenger next to me had just arrived from a long-haul flight from her home in Holland.  She was coming to be with her family in Wellington.  She was very tired but very excited.  She had not seen her son and daughter for a few years and had yet to meet some of her grandchildren.

The welcome she was given at the gate was amazing.  She was engulfed in hugs and kisses; children’s drawings were held high.  It was as though they had the whole terminal to themselves.  Nothing else mattered but a family united.

This is the call coming out from our third Sunday of Advent: cry out with joy and gladness.  I witnessed it yesterday; it’ll be repeated through the coming days as families gather, celebrating each other, creating new memories.

Here’s another approach: a little boy outside a supermarket announced in a loud voice, Mum, I’m hungry!  His mother said, We’ll be home soon and you can eat then.  And the boy replied, quite agitated, But I’m hungry now!  It might have been the smell of food around him, but he was certainly anxious to be fed.  There was a sense of urgency in his cry and I found myself thinking about the wider implications of hunger.  What do you and I hunger for?

The grandmother arriving from Holland hungered for her family; St Paul in the second reading today, hungers for the happiness of his people.  We all need more than bodily food, we need the food that makes life worthwhile.

When the people ask John the Baptist, What must we do? he says, share what you have with others.  Jesus would later build on that and say, hunger and thirst for what is just and right and good.  To be given and to give food of welcome and acceptance and tolerance – this really is the heart of our yearning, for it opens the path to Bethlehem – the world’s first real encounter with joy and gladness.