Bishop Richards Christmas Message 2015

It’s a pretty picture that makes a great card or nativity illustration. The cosy stable scene with Mary looking so serene, lowing cattle and the adoring shepherds. It looks so comfortable, ideal and perfect.  It makes a great picture.

But if we keep it as a pretty picture we have a nativity scene that doesn’t speak to us with the power and intensity that the Gospel story actually portrays. If we keep it as a tranquil scene we sentimentalise the Christmas story and rob ourselves of its power to change our hearts, our minds and our society.

Jesus was not born into tranquillity. He was born into the strife of a poverty ridden existence. That’s the real gift of Christmas. The gift we, as Christians, celebrate this year. The gift that we want to share with the world. That we have a God who is less interested in the palatial splendour of the heavens and more concerned with improving the world we live.

If we grasp hold of that practical Christmas truth then this Christmas story has real, life changing meaning. It changes our attitude to poverty and calls us to respond, as the church has done, through the Foodbanks, through the marches to do something about climate change, through the calls for peace and through the need and desire to offer a positive welcome to the displaced, scared refugee.

Too many people feel under pressure to celebrate Christmas through the increased consumption of goods. This may give a short term gratification, the expensive present the expansive dinner. But any pleasure that may come from a one day binge comes tinged with the hangover of having to pay for this day. Celebrating Christ’s birth in a realistic way, understanding that he was born to bring us a lasting sense of peace.

I hope that my Christian friends understand this truth and live by it as they work to love and serve the communities they live in. I pray that those who don’t know this, or maybe don’t believe in the underlying message of Christmas get to experience some of Christ’s love through contact with their local church. So why not start this Christmas. Pay a visit to your local church, where I am sure you will receive a warm welcome, and start to understand how the joy of Christ’s birth at Christmas can translate into an ongoing sense of peace for the whole of 2016.

I wish all readers a peaceful and joyous Christmas.