I never thought I would say these words, but this winter I have learned to view risk assessment as a blessing. I've always acknowledged the need for risk assessment, but I've never really recognised it as a prompt for gratitude.

As I completed the risk assessment for this year's Advent Sleepout my perspective began to change. Risk assessment requires not only looking at the potential problems, but also identifying ways to reduce the risk. For example in doing the Advent Sleepout we would be outside and vulnerable to anyone who might seek to cause us harm. But to ameliorate the situation we would ensure that the porch gate was locked so that no-one could get it. It was also possible that we might suffer bad effects from the cold. But we planned to leave heaters on in one of the rooms in the church so that if necessary people could go there to warm up, plus hot drinks were constantly available, and if the worst came to the worst, someone could return home to recover. 

As I looked through all the potential measures we could take to reduce our chances of suffering as a result of our night out, I was suddenly struck by the significance. These precautions that we were taking for our one and only night out were not available for the homeless people in our town who spend night after night on the street. They are constantly risk assessing situations (often unconsciously) in order to stay as safe and warm as possible, but their options are extremely limited. The best they might hope for is that perhaps they can sleep under a building with an overhang to protect them a little from the elements, or maybe they can stay out of sight to reduce the risk of being spat on or beaten up. They don't have back up options of warm rooms, locked doors, hot drinks.

And then I began to think about Jesus. Did God complete a risk assessment before sending Jesus to earth? Jesus came from heaven, from the right-hand of the Father where He had all power and authority. He had every possible means at his disposal for avoiding suffering or discomfort. And yet Jesus did not seem to have put things in place to reduce His suffering, or to give himself a way out or back-up plan. In fact He actually chose a life of discomfort and suffering. Born in a  cold, smelly, dark stable surrounded by animals - this was just the start of a life in which he didn't shy away from the pain which faced him and those around him. He did this so that He could fully share our humanity and ultimately free us from the burden of death and despair which binds us.

So let's keep doing risk assessments, thanking God for the options we have. But let's also look out for the moments when God calls us to take risks, to identify with people who have fewer options and to thank Him for the path of suffering which He chose for us.