Bishop Paul's Christmas Message

A family flees for its life.

A family flees for its life. They have been living under the shadow of a murderous regime and they know that at any time the slaughter may reach them. They have no time. The journey is arduous and dangerous and there is no certainty of what they may find when they reach their destination.

This is a very present reality. It is the type of story we see almost every day on our news reports. The plight of the refugee, desperately crammed into boats trying to find a place of sanctuary. We feel sympathy, powerlessness, frustration. We look at the desperation and wonder how we have got to this in the 21st century. We call out and ask where God is in this suffering.

Yet this is God’s story. The family are Jesus’ family and the tale is of the flight to Egypt. In it, as we know, the Christ child is being whisked away from Herod’s pogrom. In it the only option is to travel to a strange land, a land full of potential danger and to an uncertain future.

So God became and refugee and as such is in the refugee’s story. And he calls us to follow him into that story, to get alongside those in distress and above all find appropriate ways to welcome the stranger to our door.

In many ways the welcome of the stranger is central to the Christmas story. It is a harsh story in a difficult setting and it is one we dress up to be a picture postcard at our peril. Jesus ‘s parents had been immigrants in Bethlehem struggling to find a place of shelter where they could have their child. They had been turned away many times and it was left to the poorest in society to offer a true, sacrificial welcome to the Lord of all. How often is that the case? The rich turn the needy away while those who could be seen to be in need are the ones that offer most love and comfort.

So Christ’s story compels us to offer a proper Christmas welcome this year. And Christ’s teaching reinforces that command. The command that the God of justice has echoed over the centuries. The command that is writ large throughout scripture. Jesus told us to look after the cold, the homeless, the hungry. Our neighbours. But Christ knew what that experience was like and Christ knew that all of humanity needs that love.

The media image of Christmas is one of self-indulgence. The time to spend, to party, to eat, drink and be merry. Jesus wouldn’t want to deny you pleasure – he helped one party in Cana really get swinging.

But if Christ’s story, the story of his beginnings, the story of his life is to continue to have lasting relevance and meaning then we should pause in the indulgence of our selves. And this Christmas look to indulge someone else. Support them, love them, aid them and bring them the welcome that so many denied to our Lord.

Then we can use Christmas to remind people that the birth of Christ made a bigger difference to the world than just a picture postcard story.

Happy Christmas.