Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Christ conquers fear — Rowan Williams Christmas message

Lord Williams’ Christmas message as given to the Cambridge News

In the Christmas story, the first thing the angels say to the shepherds is ‘Don’t be afraid!’ At the end of a year of violence and threats and atrocities, we might be tempted to say ‘Why not?’

It seems as though fear is a very reasonable response to the kind of world we live in. And plenty of people with loud voices and public megaphones are happy to encourage this, for reasons of their own – a quick look across the Atlantic.

But having faith – the sort of faith we think about at Christmas, even if we don’t call ourselves religious – doesn’t mean burying our heads in the sand. Of course we have to think hard about real threats and how to meet them; about real violence and how to restrain it.

But the more fear sets the agenda, the less reasonable it all gets. And much more importantly, we forget what’s worth celebrating and being grateful for.

For Christians, this season is about how God tells us what he thinks of our human life: it may be a mess, it may be disfigured by terrible suffering and injustice, but it’s still astonishing and worthy of endless respect and delight. God can use human words and actions to say something about eternal love.

What we actually should be afraid of is any kind of language or action that cheapens human lives and human dignity. We should be afraid of losing our excitement about human life and why it matters. If we resist terrorism internationally and prejudice and suspicion in our own backyards, it’s because we have positive convictions about people, not just because we’re frightened.

So it’s worth taking time at Christmas and the New Year just to remember moments in the year when you’ve been surprised by something you’ve seen someone do or read about them doing that shows what people are capable of; some act of unpredictable generosity.

Personally, I think about the overwhelming response we had to charity appeals for disasters, even at a time of pressure here at home. About the Muslims in Kenya who protected their Christian neighbours from terrorists at the risk of their lives. About all those people who in the aftermath of being caught up in terrorist attacks find it possible to say that they don’t seek revenge.

These are the stories we need to tell to stop ourselves being paralysed by fear. These are the depths of human nature that can’t be taken away. And for me as a Christian, these are the things that help me grasp what a difference is made by the arrival of God’s love in the world.

For Christmas and the New Year, then, let’s try to keep our eyes on why human lives matter and on the amazing fact that so many people still take great risks to show what that means in practice.

Every blessing and good wish for a happy and blessed Christmas and New Year.

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