THE coming of the light of Christ provides hope at the end of a dark and difficult year, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said in their Christmas Day sermons. The Queen, too, has spoken about the teachings of Christ as her “inner light”.
In a sermon preached on Christmas Day morning in Canterbury Cathedral, broadcast online, Archbishop Justin Welby said that 2020 had been characterised by “the darkness of Covid, of economic crisis, of climate emergency, evils of racism, of war, genocide, and persecution. For billions around the world, 2020 has been a year walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”
There had been “gifts of good news, of hope” in recent weeks, however, including the vaccine and “the capacity of governments to find a way forward in relations after Brexit”.
He continued: “But above and beyond all these there is the simple history, the reality that the light came into the world and the darkness has not overcome it. Not because we feel it or believe it or it works for us, but because the light of the birth of Jesus reveals God as God is.
“Jesus Christ reveals God leaning into the darkness and defeating it through embracing every aspect of our sufferings and struggles, anxieties and fears.”
The Archbishop said that, 2000 years later, “the darkness has still not overcome the light. Empires have come and gone. Tyrants have risen and fallen. Economies have emerged and collapsed. Science has offered us obliteration and solutions. Diseases have swept the planet or been eliminated. Wars have threatened human destruction and good people united for peace. Treaties are made and broken.
“But the defining event of human history is the coming of the light. As much as we may currently be tempted to imagine this virus as the pivot of our lives — ‘Before Covid and After Covid’ — the pivot for every life, for human history is in fact the coming of the light of Christ.”
The light of Christ could be seen today, he said, “in a society that because of our Christian heritage — even if not current belief — thinks it matters fundamentally that the poor are cared for, that the hungry are fed, that the sick have access to the health care they need, that children are educated, that the elderly are cherished and protected.
“We see that light in the food banks of Dover, in those helping across every part of Kent, where amidst much struggle people are cared for by local government and by volunteers. We see that light in the hospitals where people offer their life and their future, in the schools looking to the long-term hopes of the next generation. We praise God for that light which has so penetrated this land and so many other lands, the light that calls us back to its source.”
Archbishop Stephen Cottrell preached at a solemn eucharist in York Minster on Christmas Day. Like Archbishop Welby, he acknowledged that it had been a dark year, during which “poorest communities have been hit hardest” by lockdowns, and those who are “hungry and homeless” have suffered much.
The “unwelcome arrival of a new and virulent strain of Covid-19” had forced people to cancel or cut back the plans that they had made for Christmas. “There will be unopened presents around our Christmas trees today. There will be empty places at our tables. Many of us will be on our own.”
He went on: “Our celebrations may be restricted. We might each be carrying a great sadness because we can’t be with our loved ones. We are, of course, crying out for an end to the horrors of this pandemic, but we are also filled, as the carol has it, with comfort and joy.
“Why? Because God shares our life in Jesus Christ. In him, heaven touches earth. God reaches out to hold us, even though at the moment, we can’t hold each other.”
Archbishop Cottrell concluded by urging people to “raise your voices in defiant praise of all that God has done and against all the misery, horrors, pessimism and injustice of our world. Let’s change the world: one praising heart at a time”.
In her televised Christmas message, the Queen said that Christians, for whom Jesus is “the light of the world”, had not been able to celebrate his birth “in quite the usual way”, and she listed other faiths’ celebrations that had been similarly affected in the year.
She had been moved by the “quite, indomitable spirit” of people in the UK and around the world who had “risen magnificently to the challenges of the year”.
She continued: “We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that — even on the darkest nights — there is hope in the new dawn.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man “is saved by someone who did not share his religion or culture” was “still as relevant today”, the Queen said.
“Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God.
“The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light, as has the sense of purpose we can find in coming together to worship.”
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, reflected on lessons learned from the pandemic in his Christmas Day sermon in Christ Church, Dublin. Covid-19 had forced people to widen their perspective, he suggested, and referred to “the jigsaw of common good”.
He said: “This new sense of neighbourliness takes us beyond the sense of neighbourhood neighbours and into the twin realms of reconciliation and ecology. If you have seen your neighbour’s need, if your neighbour has met your need as never before, a joint concern for peace and for justice and for restraint and for distribution will have come to the fore in these interchanges. These are reconciliation and ecology.”
The world had no need to return to the way it was before the virus hit, Dr Jackson said.
“If we can lift up the simple, straightforward learnings during the time of the coronavirus — which, let me remind us all, is still with us — and use them, they, in and of themselves, by their own integrity and example, introduce our imagination and our energy to the values that right across the whole of Ireland build up the jigsaw of the common good: peace and justice, reconciliation and ecology, community and diversity.”
He called for a humbler Church: “Too often its instincts are for self-interest rather than for other-interest. Perhaps we get closer to the heart of such a need for change if we, any of us, open our eyes to the definition of sin offered by Pope Francis in his recent book: Let us dream: The Path to a Better Future: ‘Our sin lies in failing to recognise value, in wanting to possess and exploit that which we do not value as a gift. Sin always has this same root of possessiveness, of enrichment at the expense of other people and Creation itself.’
“This definition and this description extend far beyond those of us who call ourselves and are called by others religious. This definition is not about self-righteousness; this response is about self-giving. We are all in this together.”
Read the full text of the Queen’s Christmas speech here, of Archbishop Welby’s sermon here, Archbishop Cottrell’s sermon here, and Dr Jackson’s sermon here.