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God knows people’s suffering, says Archbishop Welby in online midnight sermon

23 December 2020

Guidance updated as more regions of the UK move into tier 4 from Boxing Day

Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, during a midnight mass pre-recorded at St Martin’s, Canterbury, which is to be broadcast online on Christmas Eve

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, during a midnight mass pre-recorded at St Martin’s, Canterbury, ...

GOD knows our suffering this Christmas and always, because, at his birth, he was surrounded by poverty and “worse disease than even we’ve suffered this year of Covid”, the Archbishop of Canterbury is to say at a midnight mass to be broadcast online by the Church of England.

Archbishop Welby is joined by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who will preside at the service, which was pre-recorded from St Martin’s, Canterbury. It will be broadcast on the Church of England’s YouTube and Facebook pages at 11.30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

In his sermon, Archbishop Welby reads a “report of the Bethlehem Police” on Christmas night — a third-person creative interpretation of the Christmas story.

“The coming of God as human, as much a fact of history as us being in this building today, was not in palaces with decent warning; it was in poverty, surrounded by disease, worse than the most of us have suffered, worse disease than even we’ve suffered this year of Covid,” he says.

“The coming of God was in weakness and vulnerability, so many of us know about that, so many who we miss and weep for, know about that. Indeed, more than that, like all babies, God came in complete helplessness.”

Jesus was a refugee from Egypt, the Archbishop says. “Why didn’t he turn up in all his glory?. . . Let’s be clear, it wasn’t for fun. We all know, perhaps some from experience, but anyone from observation, what rough-sleeping is like, what suffering looks like, and this year we know what sorrow feels like. God does it all from love.”

This is something to hold on to this Christmas, which, for many families across the UK and the world, will look so different from Christmases before, he says. “We find a presence invading our lives that is made of love. We may be in a hospital ward, we may be missing someone in a hospital ward, missing someone who seems to have gone. We may be frightened and anxious, isolated, lonely.

“God will fill our lives with love. He offers that and gives us choice, He knows what we suffer because he did, too. He knows us better than we know ourselves.”

The Church of England further updated its coronavirus guidance on Wednesday, shortly before the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that several more counties — Essex, Norfolk, Sussex, Surrey, Oxfordshire, and Hampshire — would move into tier 4 on Boxing Day. About 16 million people had been living under the most stringent restrictions.

The C of E guidance, which links to the latest government guidance on places of worship, reiterates that people in tiers 2 to 4 should not meet friends and family indoors in any setting, including a place of worship, unless they are part of the same household or support bubble. In tiers 3 and 4, this also applies to a private garden and to most outdoor public venues.

The government guidance states: “In all Tiers, you can leave home to attend a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or a related event for someone who has died, or to visit a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding.”

In tier 4, weddings of up to six people are permitted, but receptions are not. This is compared with a maximum of 15 peoples in tiers 1 to 3. The limit for funeral services remains at 30 people for all tiers, though memorials and wakes are limited to six people in tier 4 and 15 in the lower tiers.

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