Christmas Greetings from Bishop Christopher
From The Bishop of Southwark Bishop’s House 38 Tooting Bec Gardens London SW16 1QZ
I wish you and yours peace,
good health and good will as we
celebrate Christmas and through the coming year.
When I wrote last year there were two rather uncertain things ahead of us: the General Election and Brexit. Looking back on them from the end of this year it is remarkable how many other things around us have been shown to be uncertain too. We have discovered again our smallness as we encounter natural events beyond our control. We have learned that we are interconnected in society and to our environment in ways that we need constantly to hold before us. We have been reminded of our interdependence and that beyond Brexit our destiny remains closely bound up with peoples of every other nation on earth. Our experience this year has been shocking and uncomfortable but much has been learned and recognised anew and we do well to reflect deeply as we go forward into 2021.
It has been encouraging to me to see the different ways our parishes and church communities have responded to this pandemic. You have served faithfully, imaginatively and lovingly and for this I express heartfelt gratitude. Communities have been served through pastoral care and responding to need. Worshipping communities have been held together and in some cases extended through online worship morphing in many places into mixed-mode worship with streaming from, or pre-recording in, our churches. Where it will be possible to gather again for worship in Advent and Christmastide, our churches will be made safe with careful and thoughtful precautions in place.
As we move into the New Year the prospect of vaccines gives us cause for hope, and we should be rightly thankful for the labours of scientists and others in researching, preparing and distributing them. Nevertheless, challenges will remain for us and for our neighbours. Many people will need encouragement to return to worship and many will want assurances that gathering together is safe. Following the shocking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis back in May, we need to be ever more committed to authenticate our proclamation of the Gospel by seeking racial justice, just as we are also called in this generation to proclaim the urgent need for environmental justice as well as for generations to come.
As we move from “crisis mode” to something more sustainable, we must not be discouraged. I encourage you to listen carefully to your own levels of energy and attend to your inner resources. Remember the in-flight safety demonstrations of old – you need to put your own oxygen mask on before attending to others! For the Christian faith is always there for the “long haul”. What we receive at Christmas is the gift of God’s own life, beautifully expressed in the hymn Of the Father’s heart begotten. In the Child of Bethlehem God is united to the whole of humankind. God has not withheld part of the Divine life, waiting for us to be good enough, or clever enough, or holy enough for the next instalment. Rather, God has given himself unreservedly. He has gathered us to his heart, through the Incarnation of the Word that is begotten of the Father’s heart. We can take confidence from this for our journey. Christ really is with us until the end of the age, firing our imagination, building our vision, comforting our hearts and inspiring us to love others as he loves us.
I wish you, your families, and those you love a blessed Advent and a holy and joyful Christmas.