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This is a dark time, but God knows all about the dark, Archbishop Welby counsels

25 December 2022

Christmas morning sermons focus on the power of hope

Lambeth Palace

Archbishop Welby arrives at Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Day

Archbishop Welby arrives at Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Day

THE power of hope to conquer the darkness was the theme of Christmas morning sermons in Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster today.

“When we’re honest, it seems to many of us that the darkness this year has often seemed to overcome,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said, referring especially to conflict in South Sudan and Ukraine.

“Even where the world forgetfully turns a blind eye to injustice and suffering, pays no attention to a war, God is present through Jesus in the world. God does not give up on a darkness-loving world,” he said.

Archbishop Welby added: “Though rulers may just possibly escape human justice, they will never escape the judgment of God, who especially loves the poor and afflicted. Let that be remembered by those in Russia and South Sudan, and in the 50 other wars around the world . . . who pursue war, and unleash all the forces of hell.”

On the cost-of-living crisis, which he said was causing “immense anxiety and hardship” for many across the UK, he praised the work of volunteers, including a ten-year-old he met at a church-run foodbank in Canterbury on Friday.

“God reaches out to those whose family have no resources around us in this country today, into the dark cells of prisons, into the struggles of a hospital wards, to those on small boats to the despairing and even to the condemned and wicked. And God says: ‘Take me into your heart and life. Let me set you free from the darkness that surrounds and fills you, for I, too, have been there.’”

This, Archbishop Welby said, was why “the darkness does not overcome the light”, even in Bucha in Ukraine, where mass graves were discovered following the Russian occupation.

In York Minster, the Archbishop of York told the Christmas Day morning congregation that he was “not here to offer political analysis. . . But I do want to offer hope,” he said.

Archbishop Cottrell reflected that “this Christmas feels harder than ever. Our world feels fragile. There is war in Europe. A cost -of-living crisis is hitting the poorest disproportionately. Our health service seems to be creaking at the seams. Public-sector workers feel forced to strike. The impact of climate emergency ever more visible and pressing. In parts of East Africa, they haven’t had any proper rain for nearly three years. In Northern Kenya, an area I know well, 80 per cent of their livestock has died.”

However, the “message of Christmas” brought hope and comfort “through it all”, Archbishop Cottrell said.

“Though all the many hardships and toils, the joys and challenges that we face and the world faces, God continually and untiringly, and tenderly sings his song of hope and love to us,” he concluded.

In an article in The Times published on Christmas Eve, Archbishop Cottrell wrote: “The Christmas story challenges us to change the world. To challenge the order that sees the rich simply get richer while the poor are left to freeze; to challenge the order that refuses to pay a decent living wage for a decent day’s work all in the name of profit or efficiency; to challenge the order that suggests refugees and asylum seekers can’t possibly be genuine.”

Both archbishops, along with the other C of E bishops who sit in the House of Lords, have previously criticised the Government’s controversial plan to pre-emptively deport refugees to Rwanda (News, 13 June).

Last Monday, the High Court ruled that the scheme was lawful, in a decision that dismayed charities and proponents for migrant rights (News, 19 December).

In an interview on Channel 4 News on Friday, Archbishop Welby said that “something can be legal and still wrong”, and made no apology for speaking on such issues.

Defending the Government’s policy on the Today programme on Radio 4 following the High Court ruling, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Jonathan Gullis, said that bishops should not be “using the pulpit to preach from”.

On Friday, Archbishop Welby said that it was “a political issue with a deep moral basis”, and that he would continue to speak-out on such issues, including the cost-of-living crisis.

The interview was conducted at a foodbank ran by All Saints’, Canterbury. New research suggests that around two-and-a-half million people in the UK have sought help from churches and other religious organisations this year in response to rising prices (News, 23 December).


ON WEDNESDAY, several prelates in Ireland and Wales released Christmas messages. The Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, published a joint message with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Eamon Martin.

“The Light that came into the world at Christmas time enlightens every person who has been born or ever will be. Jesus Christ was the first person in the whole of history to have conceived of humankind as a unity, whose good he came to secure and who are secure in him,” the archbishops said.

On the same day, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, released a Christmas message that focused on the war in Ukraine, writing that “into this devastation, God comes faithfully through the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.

“And God does so in order to redeem the world, not to condemn the world. This is our hope. This is our responsibility as children of God — to bring and to give redemption by human acts of kindness, by prayers for others as for ourselves,” he wrote.

Dr Jackson concluded with a recollection of having seen a Ukrainian doll, designed to have no facial features so that the owner could more easily project their emotions on to the doll: “Christmas 2022 may prove to be like this as we project the hopes and fears of all the years on to the infant of Mary and pray for the redemption of the world.”

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, and the RC Arch­­bishop of Cardiff, the Most Revd Mark O’Toole, also released a joint Christmas message. They said that there were “flickers of light in the darkness” last year, such as in the way that communities had come together to welcome refu­gees.

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