The Archbishop writes a Christmas message in the York Press. His copy follows in full....
Last month, I was privileged to preach to two thousand people in Blackpool Tower Ballroom at a mission event called ‘Light in Darkness’. It was amazing! Outside, the famous Blackpool Illuminations lit up the sky, with the Golden Mile blazing with light as far as the eye could see. Inside the Tower, after the mighty Tower Ballroom Wurlitzer played, the Diocese of Blackburn had assembled a huge crowd to celebrate the good news of Jesus. I’d been asked to speak about my journey encountering Jesus Christ as a boy growing up in Uganda and I told how God’s radiant light guides us along all sorts of unexpected paths and journeys. And then we sang that wonderful South African song of hope and praise, Siyahamba – We are marching in the light of God!
In the Christmas Story, on the night when Jesus was born, we are told that an angel appeared to shepherds living in the field, keeping a careful watch that night over their flock. God’s unapproachable light (glory) shone around them. And suddenly a heavenly choir of angels appeared praising God and offering a blessing of peace on earth (this was a fantabulous gig earth has not witnessed again!)
Light came into the world with Jesus Christ – born to live among us, as one of us, on Christmas Day. Hallelujah! His radiant light (glory) and life enables us to know what real life is; he is God made visible. As we reflect that light and life in what we do and say, we too show others what God’s love looks like. We ourselves become a light to help others find their way to the very heart of God. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Don’t go where the path may lead; go where there is no path and leave a trail.”
In St. John’s Gospel, Chapter One, which is read out on Christmas Day, Apostle John tells us that: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” These words came to me vividly in August when I was praying for peace in the Chapel of St John at York Minster during my Vigil of "Hope and Trust for the Peace of the World". Throughout the vigil, part of the First Movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, performed by Jacqueline Du Pré, was played. It is a very moving piece of music which tells of the futility of war. People from all over the world joined me in praying for mercy, justice and peace. It was a breath-taking demonstration of solidarity from so many people in the face of the horror and pain of the violent conflict we have witnessed in so many countries this year.
I like to share the story of a Rabbi who asked his disciples how they knew that night had ended and morning had come. “Could it be,” asked one, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a goat?” “No”, replied the Rabbi. “Could it be,” asked a second, “when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig or an olive tree?” “No”, the Rabbi replied. “Well then, what is it?” the disciples pressed. “It is when you can look on the face of any woman or man and see that she or he is your sister or brother. If you can’t do this, no matter what time it is, it’s still night.”
How do we resolve the conflicts in our world? We must begin by listening and then talking to one another; and we must see each other as human beings of infinite worth to God and to ourselves. We all have a responsibility to work together to share in God’s love made visible at Christmas with everybody we meet. We can begin right where we are, making time to get to know people who are different from ourselves, and reaching out in friendship and compassion to others.
I’ll be preaching in the magnificent York Minster on Christmas Day and we will be singing carols that speak of the Light and Life that Jesus brings to us all. Amid all the lights of Christmas, whether you light a candle or gaze at York Coppergate’s spectacular Christmas Tree lights, I pray that you will let the light of God’s love into your life, and shine in all you do. Be a trailblazer! I wish you all every blessing, peace and great joy. Happy Christmas!