Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Reflection Spot: Archbishop Justin Welby's message

I really like the message which The Archbishop of Canterbury has posted on his Facebook page.

Today is the fourth and last Sunday in advent and preparations both secular and religious for the Christmas festival are in full swing.

I do not in any way blame the shops for trying to make the most of the fact that many people are dashing around stocking up on food and buying presents - they have a living to earn - but at the end of the day Christmas is not about materialism, presents or food. It is about a message of love, peace and hope, represented by the birth of a baby.

Obviously that message is particularly special to those of us who believe in the Christian faith but it is not an exclusive message and can appeal to people of other faiths or none.

Already this seasons I have had a Merry Christmas messages from two elected representatives who happen to be Muslims and I accept and am grateful for those messages in the tolerant and inclusive spirit in which they were sent. There was also a moving piece in one of this weekend's papers from a Jewish journalist who Christmas had passed by until very recently, but who described how he spent last Christmas in a Yorkshire village and how much, even though it is not part of his own faith, he found that he appreciated the Christmas message and it spoke to his heart.

Archbishop Welby's message is in that spirit and I quote it here.

"This year has been an extremely tough one for so many people and communities in this country. In particular I think of our Muslim brothers and sisters who’ve felt pressured to defend themselves in the wake of horrendous attacks carried out so outrageously in their name.

"I think too of the fear among Jewish communities, and among Sikhs, Hindus and those of other faiths. No one in this country should have to feel fear and anxiety as they try peacefully to live, pray and worship in their faith tradition. All who feel that fear will be included in my prayers this Christmas.

"Christmas is revolutionary for us as Christians and for those who live around us, especially those wrongly seen as 'different’. Jesus and his family were once misunderstood and hated. They fled to Egypt as refugees and migrants. Jesus went on to be misunderstood, hated, attacked throughout his ministry.

"But through how he treated others – especially those who were also seen as different or inferior or to be feared – he taught us a profound lesson about the gift of the other. Whether it’s the story of the Good Samaritan, or Jesus speaking to the woman at the well with whom no one else would be seen, Jesus showed us the infinitely surprising ways that we can love each other.

"So what does that mean in practical terms, in this country? For me it’s about responding to the love we’re given by God at Christmas by offering it to those who might be feeling like they are on the margins, just like Jesus and his family were.

"That could be inviting your neighbour around for dinner or a cup of tea. It could be striking up that conversation in the school playground. It could be simply sitting next to that person on the bus who others seem nervous about sitting with. Try it – take the risk, see what happens.

"As Christians we are called to be people who take that first step, Who take the risk of kindness because we believe the other person is a gift to us from God, just as we can be a gift to them.

"We’re called to be people who don’t accept narratives that seek to divide us as communities – wherever we hear them – because we have a better narrative: that God poured out his love for us by sending his son to be with us in a world of fear and danger.

"We have the capacity to share that risk-taking love with whoever we discover is our neighbour – not just this Christmas, but always.

Justin Welby"

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