Bishop’s Christmas message on BBC Three Counties
After an autumn when thousands of people are fleeing war in Syria, five weeks after the Paris massacre, three weeks after our Parliament voted to bomb Syria, and a week after the stock market fell to its lowest level in three years, it will be Christmas. In the midst of such problems, how can we truly celebrate this most important of festivals?
The reaction of many people to one catastrophe after another is fear. Quite understandably. Yet Christmas come with a message that tells us quite simply not to be afraid. When we give into fear, our reactions can become overly self-protective or overly-aggressive and we see examples of both around us. Those who suspect everyone of a certain appearance of being a potential terrorist or those who respond to the actions of a few evil people doing harm by launching verbal or physical aggression against the people they are suspicious of.
For millions of people this year, at home and abroad, how they spend Christmas day will not make a great story. They could be among the record number of people reporting domestic violence to the police; those working abroad in places which feel unsafe; those struggling on low or even reducing incomes, or maybe some of the millions of refugees fleeing the horror of war in numbers unprecedented in our lifetimes.
For others, it will be a time of over-indulgence in buying more things than we need, can eat or drink. Some will try to get away from it all somewhere far-off.
If joy seems in short supply, it will not be surprising. But the joy of Christmas is not just to make the good times better as some of the retailers’ glossy Christmas ads portray it.
The message of Christmas brings perspective to the hurting human heart. Christmas comes, in the midst of the turmoil we see around us, with hope, wonder and joy. There is the joy of new birth, the wonder of the response to Jesus’s coming from angels, shepherds and wise men. And the joy of realising that this child brings hope for humankind. Real hope, lasting hope because Jesus is not a distant, uncaring God who we can blame for not making things better. He was and is involved in the pain and suffering of the world. He listens to our cries. He was born among us. The angels message to the shepherds ‘do not be afraid’ rings true beyond the panic of meeting a messenger from heaven: their message was delivered to people who lived difficult lives, under the control of a foreign power, the Romans.
So this Christmas do not give into fear: Remember the angels’ words: Peace on earth, goodwill to all. It is relevant today more than ever.