A warm welcome for everyone - Bishop Graham's Christmas message in the EDP
24 December 2022
Bishop Graham's Christmas article has been published in the Easter Daily Press and talks of the love of Jesus illuminating our churches.
If I’m out late in a rural part of Norfolk I’m always struck by the brightness of the night sky. There are more stars across the cosmos than I can count; their sparkling taking light years to reach us. And as I drive home, I pass homes with their lights on, and I wonder about life within them.
This Christmas I’m well aware that some of those homes will not be warm places or will lack food. The cost of living crisis is biting hard. So, too, are a number of other challenges across the world beginning with the letter ‘c’.
Conflict has raged in Europe for the first time in decades, bringing in its wake untold misery and cost in human lives.
Covid has continued its silent contagious march, still ravaging communities where vaccines are not available, always seeking to mutate to break cover again.
Climate change concerns us all and is being daily lived by island states and in the least resilient places of our planet.
The Channel crossings bring refugees fleeing war and environmental catastrophe in the very human search for a better, safer, more prosperous life.
At Christmas, as we draw close to the stable of Bethlehem and peep again inside, what might the nativity scene we imagine be saying to you and me? Perhaps there were also another set of words beginning with the letter ‘c’ that shone bright in that place.
The calmness of Mary in the dis-orientation around her.
The care of Joseph in standing beside her.
The compassion of the shepherds in their awe and wonder.
The courageousness of the Magi out-witting Herod.
But also their celebration as they brought their poignant and symbolic gifts to a new baby’s crib.
The welcome ‘c’ words are part of each of our lives, just as the unwelcome ones are. They are held together in this baby. Calmness, care, compassion, courageousness and celebration are so often a part of the life of church communities. Lighting a candle, or taking a few moments of calm sitting in a church, recalibrates ourselves so that we can count our blessings and be thankful.
Day in, day out, I’m humbled by the care and compassion our churches offer by providing practical help in their communities. School uniform exchanges and foodbanks, debt-relief advice and planting trees, walking with the bereaved and supporting young people, or providing social events for Ukrainian refugees, or warm hubs for those who can’t afford fuel.
I meet courageous people going out of their way to love their neighbours and finding ways to celebrate the joys of life.
How we need the coming year to be marked out by calmness, care, compassion, courageousness and celebration. These virtues build community and enable each of us to find life in all its fulness so that we can be a blessing to others.
Our churches are the places where people down the centuries, even in the bleakest of mid-winters, have marked the birth of Jesus; God coming to be together with us and lighting up the world.
The light of Jesus lights up the harrowed faces of those impacted by war. It lights up the fearful faces of those still suffering from the pandemic, the resilient faces of those who have already lost their homes to rising sea levels, the scared faces of refugees, and the faces of those who are shivering and hungry today.
That same light of Jesus illuminates our church buildings this Christmas with a warm welcome for everyone. A church is at the heart of most communities and, after the challenges of the pandemic years, it will be good to gather in them again this Christmas.
Do look up your nearest church’s website, or search on www.AChurchNearYou.com which includes many links to live-streamed services.
Come as you are so that, with others, we can be together this Christmas. And may you and yours have a blessed Christmas.
You can view Bishop Graham’s Christmas message to all on our YouTube channel here