Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Christmas message from the Bishop of Carlisle

“We’re filming this message from Rose Castle, the former home of the Bishops of Carlisle for about 800 years. It’s recently been bought by the Rose Castle Foundation to become an international centre for peace and for reconciliation. We’re very excited about this indeed. I’m sending this message just before the first of two carol services that we’re holding in the castle for Christmas.

During 2016 various new words entered the English dictionary. One of them – or to be more accurate two – were the words post-truth. Apparently we’ve now moved from being a post-modern culture to being a post-truth culture. So what exactly does that mean?

Well I suppose it means partly that we have dispensed with absolutes; everything is relative now. My truth may be different from your truth but that does not mean to say it’s any less valid. I was looking at an abstract painting the other day and asked the artist what it meant; a stupid question. ‘What do you want it to mean?’ he said. And that’s the way truth seems to operate nowadays.

Post-truth also means that, in a world of Google and Ask Siri, we’ve begun to mistake data for truth and knowledge for wisdom. If it says it on Wikipedia or Facebook then it must be true, like the many fake news stories that appeared about Donald Trump during the recent American election. There was one that even said he was endorsed by the Pope and many people have suggested that some of those fake news stories helped to swing the election.

So how does Christmas fare in a post-truth culture? Not too well, I guess. A story about angels, shepherds, animals and a baby sounds very sweet, but it also sounds like something that children love and adults soon grow out of. What do you want it to mean? Well, most people want Christmas to mean nativity plays, presents under the tree, family gatherings and plenty of food.

They also want Christmas to be about an undemanding message of being generally nice to other people. And yet everybody needs some sort of truth by which to live and that manger on that first Christmas contained the absolute truth; the explosive truth about our creator and about us, his creatures.

As St John said, the word became flesh full of grace and truth. That extraordinary truth has transformed the world and can change each of us. As Jesus, himself, said many years later ‘Follow me. I am the way, the truth and the life.”

And as St Thomas à Kempis put it many centuries later ‘Without the way there is no going, without the truth there is no knowing and without the life there is no living.’

So my prayer is that every one of us, this Christmas, may know more of that extraordinary truth and through it discover more of the joy and the peace that only he can bring. May you have a very happy and blessed Christmas.

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