The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham and The Rt Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow have both used their Christmas messages to reflect on the hope that Christmas brings and of the poverty and fear that blight our hopes for a brighter future.
Both Christmas messages have been issued today (Sunday 18th December 2016), the last Sunday before Christmas.
In his message, Bishop Paul talks about Looking this Christmas: Looking Down at our feet and the stories they tell and Looking Out into our communities for joys and the signs of hope. He adds it is Looking Up that offers the best view saying: “If we keep looking down we will trip up. Looking down is often a sign of despondency or despair. We need to do it to see the feet, to spot the way, but if we are to move ahead we must not keep our eyes there. If we keep looking out we will see joys and hope but we may also find the world’s struggles and pain too hard to bear. So look up; look up in hope, with determination to step forward into a world of better things; where poverty is over.”
In a different but similarly optimistic message Bishop Mark talks about Fear and how that fear of the world around us is taken away by light saying: “A light can help us to feel less afraid and it can help us feel less alone.
“I know that I want to find some time on my own over Christmas to think just a bit about how, where I live, I can be a bit of a light and make a difference too.”
Both Bishops use the story of Christmas of Baby Jesus Born into a world of fear and of poverty. Bishop Paul talks of the Shepherds who looked up when the angels sang; and heard the message of hope and Bishop Mark talks of of God that knows all about fear who comes as a light to help us be less afraid.
Christmas Message from The Rt Revd Paul Butler – Bishop of Durham (745 Words)
I love Christmas. I love seeing the lights and the decorations. I love the giving and receiving of cards and presents. I like hearing from distant friends and family. I love seeing the generosity that happens at Christmas. Above all I love the God of love who is at the heart of Christmas.
I love too that it is a time when we can stop and reflect about life – that is one reason why I think so many people choose to attend some kind of church service around Christmas. It is great that so many do, and that we take a little time to reflect. So here is part of my reflecting this Christmas; it is all about looking.
Look down. Look down at your shoes. Shoes tell us stories. They can be happy stories, but they might also be hard ones. A child’s shoes might tell us a story of poverty; the worn out shoes tell the tale of what cannot be afforded. It is true the world over. No shoes, hardened, calloused, dirt ingrained feet speak volumes about a person’s life and situation. Too many children the world over have feet and shoes that tell their story of poverty. The new born baby always has beautifully smooth skin, after the initial wrinkling stretches out. But for how long does it last? When Jesus was born he would have had beautiful skin. But what were Joseph and Mary’s feet like after their long journey to Bethlehem? What would they be like later after their flight from terror into Egypt? What were Jesus feet like as a man who worked as a carpenter and then walked the land for 3 years? Feet that were nailed to a cross. Scarred feet that were evidence of his resurrection. Look down at your feet; what story do they tell?
Look Out. Look out at our community; where are the joys and signs of hope? Where are the sorrows and signs of despair? Look out at our wider world too. As we look out we have to recognise that poverty is a stark reality for many children. They live in homes that are damp and poorly furnished. The cupboards are nearly bare of clothing and of food; the latter supplemented by the local foodbank. The film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ depicted the reality, not a fiction. Look out and see the world with eyes that are willing to weep, and to smile; with eyes that stir the heart and the mind with compassion, with anger at injustice, and with a will to make a difference. As we look out this Christmas may we ponder what we, what we together, could do to bring an end to child poverty in our midst, and in the wider world. Let us give of our time, our talents, our energy and our money to making the world the better place that we all want it to be. At the heart of Christmas is the story of God looking out on his world and seeing us in all our need. So he steps in himself and enters human life as a baby. God looks out on the world, his heart is moved, he takes action in the birth of Jesus.
Look Up. If we keep looking down we will trip up. Looking down is often a sign of despondency or despair. We need to do it to see the feet, to spot the way, but if we are to move ahead we must not keep our eyes there. If we keep looking out we will see joys and hope but we may also find the world’s struggles and pain too hard to bear. So look up; look up in hope, with determination to step forward into a world of better things; where poverty is over. The shepherds looked up when the angels sang; they heard the message of hope. They ran in their dirty hardened feet to find a babe wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in an animal feeding trough (a manger). They looked and saw the hope, the light of the world, in the face of a tiny, poor baby. This Christmas may we join them looking into the face of this child and find him looking up welcoming us and calling us to look down, look out and look up to enable a better world to come.
May you have a truly Happy Christmas, looking down, looking out and looking up.
Christmas Message from The Rt Revd Mark Bryant – Bishop of Jarrow (521 Words)
There is a story going the rounds about a doctor in Congo who is called in the middle of the night to go to his local hospital and perform an emergency operation on a pregnant woman without which both the mother and her child will certainly die. He prepares for the operation and as he begins and makes the very first cut, the lights in the hospital fail. He waits in the pitch black windowless operating theatre for them to come back on again, as they usually do and they do not. What is he to do? Without the operation he knows that the mother and her baby will die. Eventually the nurse who is assisting him pulls out her phone and puts on the torch. In the next few minutes, one by one, another five nurses and cleaners appear each with their phones and their lights. The doctor is able to perform the operation successfully and the lives of mother and baby are saved.
Over Christmas, as I go to different churches, I know I shall be talking about Jesus being born in Bethlehem as a light that comes into the world; a light that makes all the difference – just like those lights on the phones in that operating theatre.
I remember when I was quite young, like a lot of young children, being afraid of the dark. I always wanted a light on in my room when I went to sleep, or at least the door left open so that I could see the light in the corridor. Light is good at taking away fear.
I know a lot of people have been anxious and a bit afraid this year. People have been afraid of some of the big things. Some have been afraid about Brexit, or the change of President in the USA. Others have been more afraid about personal things. People have been afraid of whether they would lose their jobs, or lose their partner or their children. People have been afraid about whether they would be able to feed their children or about whether they were going to get ill.
The Christmas story tells of Jesus coming into a world full of fear. The king was so cruel that he thought nothing of killing all the babies under the age of two in Bethlehem because he was afraid that one of them might become King in place of him. His mother and father have to flee with him as a young baby to try to find a place of safety. So the Christmas story tells us that God knows all about fear and into a world full of fear he comes as a light to help us to be less afraid, by letting us know that we are never completely alone.
A light can help us to feel less afraid and it can help us feel less alone.
I know that I want to find some time on my own over Christmas to think just a bit about how, where I live, I can be a bit of a light and make a difference too.