Archbishop Rowan Williams (Picture, from HERE)
Saturday 25 December 2010
In his traditional Christmas sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, focuses on how the birth of Jesus is but one stage of the fulfilment of God’s unchanging promise of support in the struggle for human redemption, how ‘the story of Jesus is the story of a God who keeps promises’.
So Christmas is a time of coming to terms with God’s all embracing and redemptive love for us, despite the cost and the tragedy involved, the human failures and betrayals. God, he asserts, despite our limitations and the humiliation our weaknesses lay on him, realises ” we cannot live without him; and he accepts everything for the sake of our well-being”.
In this Christmas context, Dr Williams urges us to first of all contemplate our mutual dependence on our fellow human beings – our need for a spirit of fellowship and loyalty to each other in sharing the burdens of adversity in difficult economic times:
“Faced with the hardship that quite clearly lies ahead for so many in the wake of financial crisis and public spending cuts, how far are we able to sustain a living sense of loyalty to each other, a real willingness to bear the load together? How eager are we to find some spot where we feel safe from the pressures that are crippling and terrifying others? As has more than once been said, we can and will as a society bear hardship if we are confident that it is being fairly shared; and we shall have that confidence only if there are signs that everyone is committed to their neighbour, that no-one is just forgotten, that no interest group or pressure group is able to opt out.”
And he points to the need for us to work positively together in order to rebuild trust:
“That confidence isn’t in huge supply at the moment, given the massive crises of trust that have shaken us all in the last couple of years and the lasting sense that the most prosperous have yet to shoulder their load. If we are ready, if we are all ready, to meet the challenge represented by the language of the ‘big society’, we may yet restore some mutual trust. It’s no use being cynical about this; whatever we call the enterprise, the challenge is the same – creating confidence by sharing the burden of constructive work together.”
In the same way, the Archbishop also urges us to embrace the meaning of the forthcoming royal wedding, to recognise the significance of the Christian bond of marriage as a symbol of hope for humanity:
“Next year, we shall be joining in the celebration of what we hope will be a profoundly joyful event in the royal wedding. It is certainly cause for celebration that any couple, let alone this particular couple, should want to embark on the adventure of Christian marriage, because any and every Christian marriage is a sign of hope, since it is a sign and sacrament of God’s own committed love. And it would be good to think that I this coming year, we, as a society, might want to think through, carefully and imaginatively, why lifelong faithfulness and the mutual surrender of selfishness are such great gifts.”
And in comparing Christian marriage with our covenantal relationship with God, the Archbishop reflects on – not only the trials of marriage – but also the inspirational examples of some marriages which he has seen:
“There will be times when we may feel stupid or helpless; when we don’t feel we have the energy or resource to forgive and rebuild after a crisis or a quarrel; when we don’t want our freedom limited by the commitments we’ve made to someone else. Yet many of us will know marriages where something extraordinary has happened because of the persistence of one of the parties, or where faithfulness has survived the tests of severe illness or disability or trauma. I admit, find myself deeply moved at times when I speak with the families of servicemen and women, where this sense of solidarity is often so deeply marked, so generous and costly. As the prince and his fiance get ready for their new step into solidarity together, they will have plenty of inspiration around, more than you might sometimes guess from the chatter of our culture.
And finally Dr Williams asks us to remember during this time of Christian celebration our brothers and sisters in many lands who suffer repression and persecution for their Christian faith:
“I remind you of our Zimbabwean friends, still suffering harassment, beatings and arrests, legal pressures and lockouts from their churches; of the dwindling Christian population in Iraq, facing more and more extreme violence from fanatics – and it is a great grace that both Christians and Muslims in this country have joined in expressing their solidarity with this beleaguered minority. Our prayers continue for Asia Bibi in Pakistan and others from minority groups who suffer from the abuse of the law by certain groups there. We may feel powerless to help; yet we should also know that people in such circumstances are strengthened simply by knowing they have not been forgotten. And if we find we have time to spare for joining in letter-writing campaigns for all prisoners of conscience, Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity worldwide will have plenty of opportunities for us to make use of.”
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The full text of the sermon can be read HERE. I add below a PDF file of this Christmas sermon.