THE first person I knew to die of an AIDS related illness passed away in 1987.

I was 15 years old, and the man in question, Jocelyn, was a colleague of my best friend’s dad. At the time of his death, Joss was the head of department at the local university, a role in which he would use his fearsome intelligence to make mischief in the numerous meetings and academic committees upon which he sat.

Having a particular facility with language, and an extraordinary vocabulary, Joss would make a point of peppering his sentences with words no one else in the room was likely to know or understand unless they came in armed with a dictionary. He did this not to show off – or not much – but rather to add what he called a little light to the deep darkness of academic bureaucracy.

It was a reflection of a personality that was bright and mischievous, with both seeming to grow more prodigious with age.

At that time – some 34 years ago – to be diagnosed as HIV positive was akin to being given a death sentence. Diagnosis was often followed by indignity, indignity by death and death by a shamed silence.

After Joss died, I was told about the whispers in the university about how he had died but such was the shame and the fear that even in death the stigma lingered on.

At the first World Aids Day event I attended back in the early 1990s, and at many since, the tone was one of a sombre memorial, remembering those who have lost their lives.

But in the decades that followed the tone changed as we not only remembered those who had died but celebrated those who lived. A global pandemic where millions of lives had been lost began to change as new treatments came on stream.

This change from certain death to positive life, from darkness to light, from mourning to joy provided reasons for hope.

As I grew older, I began to notice the timing of World Aids Day alongside the beginning of the season of Advent in the calendar of the Church. At Advent, we declare the light that comes into the world in the shape of a child born into poverty, born into an occupied territory, whose life and ministry changes human history.

Advent is also a time for hope of what is to come.

For a time when Christ comes again and God’s Justice will fill the earth. In the words of the book of Revelation: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes…when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Advent is a time for declaring that in the most important battles of our lives that love wins. Not a soppy, wet, saccharine type of love. But that strong and enduring love that carries people through both good times and bad. The love that is so strong and so passionate that it refuses to die.

It's a message of hope that we need to remember in the midst of another global pandemic, as we mourn those we have lost and look to the day when hope defeats fear.

  • The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas' Church in Durham City