Christmas message from the Bishop of Bermunda

At the Cathedral’s nativity service this year, the children open with a song: “It’s coming, it’s coming, that special time of year. It’s coming, it’s coming I know it’s almost here. Yes, Christmas day is coming soon with gifts and lots of fun, but I know that it all began with the birthday of God’s Son.”

For many children in our community, this aspiration of gifts and fun overshadows everything else — but for some these things never materialise. Others would say that it is just a time for family, to get together, a time for generosity — at best — or stress and family bickering at worst. Then there are those who would argue that nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus was born on December 25, and that the midwinter is the least likely time for shepherds to be out watching their flocks at night.

Despite not knowing the actual date of Jesus’s birth, the medieval church chose the date as the official birthday to Christianise or redeem a pagan festival held on the darkest and shortest day of the year, to signify the coming in of light into darkness and the dawn of a new era.

Throughout the history of the last 2,000 years and across the globe, Christmas has meant different things. Its current Western manifestation with the overlay of tinsel and Santa Claus is arguably just a legacy of Charles Dickens meeting up with a rampant consumerism. Now much of this is true, and for many there is no need for a religious component at all to make the season special. But, despite all of this it did begin with the birthday of God’s son, which is an event in history worthy of celebration and bringing with it a joy that should suffuse not only this one day of the year but every day.

And surely joy is needed in this crazy world of political tensions, here and abroad — with the destruction of lives and cities in such places as Aleppo, Mosul — terrorist attacks in Berlin and wide scale persecution of religious minorities, a world where children are starving in Northern Nigeria, where the drought conditions in the Horn of Africa threaten the same in Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan and the refugee situation from Syria continues.

Here in Bermuda there are still many without jobs, needing help with food. Anger, frustration, hopelessness is the experience, rather than joy. But to know that God is not detached from all of this but entered our world, at a time of political Middle Eastern turmoil, where his parents and he had to flee for their lives in fear of persecution, gives us an assurance that, despite the complexities and fears of life, God sees and knows and understands. That God should take human flesh, live our life, weep with us and ultimately suffer and die for us is part of the story. Jesus touched lives with joy from the first day of his conception and gave them significance, dignity and value; he loved, healed and forgave and offers eternal life to any who would come to him. And today he still does. Today in the city of Quaraqosh, Iraq, 6,000 children will be reminded of that as in the ruins of a church used by Isis as a torture chamber for the Christian residents of that city over the past two years as they will have a party in celebration of Jesus’s coming into the world — receiving a hot meal and a gift — sponsored by the charity Christmas for Refugees.

Jesus’s birth assures us that God has not abandoned us to our crazy and messed up lives. Through his life death and resurrection, he has brought forgiveness, a relationship with God himself, the possibility of transformation of our relationships with one another, and the hope of everlasting life and peace, and with all of that — joy!

We are entering a new year. It is my prayer and hope that all of us will once again experience a joy that will transform not only Christmas Day but every day. That you will know peace in your families, and we would all work together in this divided microcosm of the world, this beautiful yet fragile home we call Bermuda, to allow joy and thankfulness to replace the anger, fear and division that can so quickly seep in. May God bless you and your families this Christmas and into this next year.

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