GOD’s “language of love” should replace the “languages of hatred, tribalism, rivalry, materialism, pride, greed, and so many more”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a Christmas Day sermon in Canterbury Cathedral.
Archbishop Welby’s words echoed comments he has made this month about reconciliation, especially relating to the Brexit process (News, 7, 21 December). Speaking on BBC Radio 4, the Archbishop had said that people might feel “unsettled” at what the next year would bring.
In his sermon, Archbishop Welby said that the language of love “must be spoken by us on behalf of the persecuted, those farmers in the middle belt of Nigeria who speak God’s language of love in protest and lament as they suffer. One thousand and more killed this year alone (News, 30 November).
“It must be spoken by us on behalf of the Christian communities of the Middle East and around the world.”
He went on: “God’s language of love is not just for Christians, or for the comfortable and respectable. Shepherds learned it from angels. Shepherds - awkward, often drunken, frequently violent, seldom religious in the sense the religious leaders wanted. Kings came, foreigners and outsiders, and they learned the language.
“I have a friend, also called Justin – Archbishop Badi of South Sudan, a country where there have been two and a half million refugees since the war started in December 2013. There the Government and opposition groups have been brought together in Christ and a ceasefire is holding. (News, 14 September).
In York Minster, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said: “Let us beware of despising the poor, because of their poverty. Their condition is one which the Son of God has made holy and honoured, by taking it voluntarily on himself. God is no respector of persons. He looks at the heart of everyone, and not at their incomes. . .
“Friends, even in uncertain times – like Brexit for us all – the hope is still there, the belief that into darkness God can still shine a light (this is so true in Isaiah 9).
“And to many places of oppression, injustices and brutality – very much like the first Christmas when ‘in and around Bethlehem children who were two years old or under were killed by the order of king Herod’ (Matthew 2:16).”
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, also mentioned uncertainty over Brexit, in a Christmas message to her diocese.
She said: “We live in politically turbulent times, with uncertainty for many. The discussions around Brexit are not simply about legislation – they are about identity and the type of city we want to be.The EU Referendum exposed divisions in our society, and the present political process risks deepening them.
“These divisions cannot be resolved by Parliament alone – strengthening relationships amongst our communities is the key. Whilst I hope that politicians co-operate across party boundaries to find a way forward in the common good, I also believe that if we can give of ourselves to each other, we can build communities which are integrated and strong. We have more in common than divides us. I hope that churches across this Diocese will take the lead.”
Bishop Mullally also spoke of modern slavery. She said: “In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, in a city heralded for its history and culture, modern slavery is thriving. Thousands are forced into domestic servitude, forced labour or sexual exploitation in plain sight of Londoners, and many more are at risk of falling through the cracks, hidden from the view of the authorities, charities and the Church.”
She went on to highlight the work churches in London diocese are doing to combat this, and also to help with the increase in violent crime in the capital.
The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, used his Christmas message to reflect on a trip to Bethlehem this year.
He said: “My joy was tempered by the knowledge that around much of Bethlehem is a huge wall. For Palestinians it is a separation wall preventing them from travelling to their olive groves, or into Jerusalem, without a permit.
“For Israelis it is a security wall that prevents terrorist attacks. Crossing the checkpoint, with its razor wire, scanners and turnstiles, feels like entering and leaving a prison.
“As with walls in many places, it is a living symbol of division. Whilst providing some security, it perpetuates fear and hatred.”
Bishop Usher continued: “Our current political debates also put up barriers between those who voted in different ways. Our country needs, more than ever, to seek grace and generosity in our political conversation so that there are not winners and losers, just the flourishing of all.”
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, spoke of the story of Babel and its relevance in the modern world. He said: “At a global level, if we are to overcome the damage of Babel government, we need to insist that we hear and respond well to the voices of those who are most affected by our damage to the environment, those who are themselves damaged by the commodification of human labour, in trafficking and in outrageously unfair contracts for work.
“And those who are the victims of political power-broking, in the Yemen, in Syria, in Burma, and even in our own nation. We need to hear and respond well to the voices of children and of women and of men whose dignity is trampled on by others.”
The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, said that he was “shocked” at the results of the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on poverty (News, 7 December).
Bishop Henderson said: “These are scary statistics which, even if not fully accurate, offer a worrying commentary on the kind of society we have become and the struggle many face in making ends meet.
“The existence of foodbanks and the increase in their use in recent months, as told to me in a recent visit to the remarkable Blackburn foodbank, is a sad reflection on this struggle; though of course we pay tribute to the many who are engaged in providing this crucial lifeline.”
In her annual Christmas broadcast, the Queen said that: “Only a few people acknowledged Jesus when he was born; now billions follow him. I believe his message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is never out of date.
“It can be heeded by everyone; it’s needed as much as ever.”
In a Christmas homily in St Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve, Pope Francis condemned materialism.
He said: “Let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?
“For many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.”