Bishop Paul’s Christmas message for parish magazines 2017

A friend at Christmas

The majority of Christmas advertisements that I have seen this year have a clear underlying message. In their glossy, VERY expensive, highly produced messages the advertisers are saying that Christmas is about bringing people together, in family or extended family units. That, they say, is the best place to consume the product they offer.  Around the table of tempting fare from the grocery retailer they show how Christmas can be complete.

And that's not a bad sentiment in many ways. It is certainly one which the Church can subscribe to. We are about community, coming together around Jesus, learning together, journeying together as we try to understand God's love for us and the world. Obviously, the gift we want is not materialistic but the precious gift of the God who loved the entire world, and came to us as a poor baby.

But among all these happy messages I have a nagging worry about loneliness. Research in 2016 showed that a million older people face a lonely Christmas, isolated from the festivities and dreading the season. Maybe it is the call of the Church this year, of your Church, our Church, to do something about that isolation.

Over the past few weeks I have been encouraging everyone in the churches to "Bring One Friend" - in other words to think who it is that each one of us might invite into the worshipping and serving life of the Church. When I started talking about this, I had in mind the desire to share God's love with more people. That is the heart of Jesus' story, his mission, and his purpose in life. Jesus, who was born in the relative loneliness of the Bethlehem stable wanted to embrace the whole world and show them the reality of the love of the kingdom of God.

We started talking about "Bringing One Friend" now because we knew that during Advent and at Christmas the Church is still blessed with many ways in which we can connect with our community. We still provide services and events that chime in with the national mood. But we have a still deeper purpose, as we introduce people to the Lord and to the Kingdom. This year, the Christmas, if we can make a bigger difference in one person's life by "bringing one friend" into the community of church and pointing them in the direction of the Kingdom of God then that will be great.

For our table is not filled with the superficial gifts of the consumer-led Christmas; it is the table made by the carpenter. On it are the symbols and gifts of the carpenter. On it are the reminders of his story that started in the Christmas stable and ended in the bursting out of the Easter tomb. Around it are the people he invites into his story, the friends he chose to bring. It's not an exclusive group - Jesus's table has room for more, for you and me, and - yes! - for the friends we bring.

if we can make a bigger difference in one person's life by "bringing one friend" into the community of church and pointing them in the direction of the Kingdom of God then that will be great.