THE Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to confront their limits as mortals, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Christmas Day sermon.
Archbishop Welby noted that the question “Could Christmas be saved?” had dominated headlines in recent weeks. Preaching in Canterbury Cathedral, he said: “We have been faced collectively as never before in peacetime with our limits — our fragility, the contingency of life and our mortality. As a nation, perhaps six to seven million people have faced bereavement, suffering and loss. We all face uncertainty, uncontrollability and unpredictability . . .
“As a society, too often we have faced these challenges without hearts open to God. There can be no greater aloneness.”
There was “every cause to be proud of human achievement,” the Archbishop said. “But let’s get this straight — it’s not we who save Christmas, it’s Christmas that saves us. . . The vaccine is amazing, but ultimately we can’t vaccinate our mortality away. . .
“There are things we can’t conquer — people are not on an upward trajectory towards perfection.”
He concluded: “God has come to us in all the limits of our humanity. We are not alone. And if that were not enough, he shows us the limitless depth of his love by dying for us — that we might be with him forever.”
Among those bereaved during the year was the Queen who, in her Christmas broadcast, observed: “Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones. This year, especially, I understand why.
“But for me, in the months since the death of my beloved Philip, I have drawn great comfort from the warmth and affection of the many tributes to his life and work — from around the country, the Commonwealth, and the world.”
She remarked on the arrival of four new great-grandchildren in the past year, observing: “It is this simplicity of the Christmas story that makes it so universally appealing: simple happenings that formed the starting point of the life of Jesus — a man whose teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, and have been the bedrock of my faith. His birth marked a new beginning.”
Preaching at the Vatican on Christmas Day, Pope Francis took dialogue as his theme: “For God himself — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — is dialogue, an eternal and infinite communion of love and life.”
He warned of “a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together. On the international level, too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue.”
Among the world’s troubled places to which he referred was the Holy Land and “the continuing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians that drag on without a resolution, with ever more serious social and political consequences.
“Nor should we forget Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’s birth, which is experiencing hardship also from the economic repercussions of the pandemic, preventing pilgrims from visiting the Holy Land and adversely affecting the life of the people.”
In a joint Christmas message, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem said that they were “heartened by the recent, albeit brief opening of Israel’s borders, allowing Christian pilgrims to return to the Holy Land after a long absence.
“It is our hope that circumstances will allow these borders to soon reopen so that we might again welcome these devout followers of Christ, especially with the approach of Christmas. Their return would not only help to deepen their devotion to our Lord, but also strengthen the Christian presence in Bethlehem and throughout this land where Christ was first made manifest to the world.”