Christmas message from the Bishop of Gloucester

SOMETIMES it seems as if everywhere I look I’m confronted with woolly chests emblazoned with Rudolph or Santa.

The season of the Christmas jumper is upon us and, festive humour aside, I often wonder what this says about the wearer’s true identity.

Who is it they really are beneath the knitted cover-up, quick laugh and the wry grin?

This year, alongside the Children’s Society and Girlguiding UK, I have been trying to draw public attention to the unhappiness of many young people, rooted in their dissatisfaction with their physical appearance; this unhappiness is affecting their mental health.

I have been listening to young people talk about the pressures on them to look a certain way.

I’ve heard those feelings of self-worth linked to what’s on the outside and I’ve been encouraging a looking-within to discover personal value and beauty.

There’s something seriously wrong about the messages out there regarding identity and value.

In this strange year of referendum and turmoil, there has been much public conversation about our national identity.

In some places there has been an ugly turning-in with backs turned against those who don’t fit the image people choose to value.

However, turning-in is not the same as looking inside.

At its heart, Christmas is about identity. God came to Earth as the baby Jesus – flesh and blood, dwelling among us. Jesus was born into a place of turbulence, a nation occupied by an oppressive power.

He was forced to become a refugee; grew up to experience hatred and rejection.

Yet Jesus was always sure of his identity as the Son of God and continued to make known who God truly is: the Love which brought us into being, each unique, loved and known.

Love which is stronger than death. Love in whom we discover who we are.

And it all begins on the inside – deep within.

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