Monday, 26 December 2011

Christmas 2011

From Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas Broadcast:
The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together.

For many this Christmas will not be easy. With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home. The bereaved and the lonely will find it especially hard. And, as we all know, the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.

Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin
And enter in
Be born in us today

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
Whilst these words speak indirectly of events affecting Britain in the course of the last year - the armed forces in action in Libya and in Afghanistan, the financial crisis, the disturbances in some of our cities during the summer - these words of Her Majesty also speak more directly to two current public debates in British society, debates that are not unconnected. These are the debates about the nature of marriage and about the place of Christian faith in the public life of our country. Whilst preserving entirely the courtesy towards our political processes that is a hallmark of the British Monarchy, I did feel as I listened to these words yesterday that the Queen was offering her own testimony about these matters.

There is a certain parallel between some of the Queen's words and these from Pope Benedict's homily at Midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica:
Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half metres high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half metres has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis [of Assisi] – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.
 UPDATE: A post at St Paul's - The Queen's Christmas Message - makes rather more explicit the thoughts that I indicated above:

In her Christmas message Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth highlighted the importance of family. This was taken up by the media, but what they did not choose to highlight was the uncompromising references Her Majesty made to Christmas being a Christian festival and to the Christan faith.

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