The Archbishops from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Christmas is often a time when we have many expectations – of whanau being together again, lots of food, especially kai moana, carol services and a chance to rest and unwind. The reality is often different. For all too many households, Christmas can be a time of short tempers, road rage, family strife, hardship, stress, overspending and growing debt, drunkenness or violence.
In contrast to these things, the Christmas message is about deep peace: The peace of Christ in the midst of all the busyness. The peace that comes after sorting out resentments and family feuds. The peace of realizing that not everything has to be perfect.
Christmas is also meant to be about joy: The joy of the gift of the Christ child, of having time to be with those you love. The joy of appreciating all the blessings you have and not concentrating on the things you don’t have.
Most of all, Christmas is about love. For God so loved the world that He caused Jesus to be conceived in love by the Holy Spirit through the Virgin Mary. Jesus came amongst us in the love of Mary, and of Joseph, in the love of every heart that believes. God is love, and seeds within us the same love.
That’s a love that encourages us to reach out to a struggling neighbour who needs a hand, a love that doesn’t walk past the sick or lonely or unlovely but stops for a word - or better yet, invites them in. A love that recognizes that the people we share Christmas with might not be perfect, but they are still an important part of our life. A love that doesn’t hurt with words or actions, when someone doesn’t do what we want or in the way we want it. A love which is also recommitted to address the harsh realities of the Holy Family in our midst - who include the homeless, the refugees and the excluded.
Love is the true heart of Christmas because Christmas is all about God’s gift of love to us. For God so loved each one of us, that He gave the gift of that little baby born in Bethlehem, and placed Him into the realities of our world, that we might experience a relationship with Him first hand.
May the God of love, joy and peace be with you and those you love this Christmas.
The Most Rev Brown Turei, Primate/ Co-Presiding Bishop
The Most Rev Jabez Bryce, Archbishop/ Co-Presiding Bishop
The Most Rev David Moxon, Archbishop/ Co-Presiding Bishop
Christmas message from the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori
Eyes to see
Finding Immanuel as immigrant, wanderer, child
In what form will you find the Christ child this year? The fact of the Incarnation in a weak and helpless babe says something significant about where we focus our search. I am convinced that it is part of our call to exercise a "preferential option" on behalf of the poor, weak, sick, and marginalized. The long arc of biblical thinking and theologizing has to do with seeing God's care for those who have no other helper. Indeed, Jesus is understood as that helper for all who fail, by the world's terms, to save themselves. More accurately, we understand that Jesus is that helper for all.
One of the great gifts of the way in which those in our cultural surroundings celebrate Christmas is the focus on children and on those who have few human helpers. We delight in the wonder of children as Christmas approaches, and many of us make an extra effort to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the needy. The challenge is to let our seasonal "seeing" transform the way we meet our neighbours through the rest of the year, and through all the coming years. How might we begin to see that child in those around us: strangers and aliens (both Immanuel and Immigrants); wanderers (Homeless, like Mary and Joseph, for whom there was no room); widows and orphans (Social Outcasts); babe born in Bethlehem (Palestinian and Israeli alike; or the boy babies whom both Pharaoh and Herod sought to kill); divine feeder of thousands (Soup Kitchen worker); and savior of the world (Peacemaker, Bringer of Justice for All, Reconciler, Just and Gracious Lawgiver...). If God comes among us as a helpless child, then the divine presence is truly all around us. Where will you meet Jesus this Christmas?
Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Alan Harper
The hearts and minds of all Christians focus in two places at Christmastide. Almost simultaneously we find our hearts at home and in Bethlehem. But to be at home, here in Ireland, and to be in Bethlehem at Christmastide in this year of our Lord 2007 are two very different experiences for Christian people. 2007 has been an extraordinary year for the people of Ireland: a year of peace and burgeoning good will, a year of sharing in responsibility for the good of all the people on this island, and therefore a year of hope and promise for a harmonious shared future.
Contrast this with the experience of the Christian people of the land of Christ’s birth. Peace between Arab and Jew seems as far away as ever and the roll call of widows, orphans and the dispossessed has grown longer and longer. Christians, who have lived in Bethlehem for 2000 years are largely Palestinians and thus not citizens of Israel and yet they are Christians and thus not Muslims. They are the successors of those who first knelt at the birthplace of Jesus and saluted the mother of our Lord, and yet they of all people are the hardest pressed in their own land. Their yearning for peace is as urgent as ours was throughout the decades of our troubles, just as their hope and trust in the Word made flesh is as constant as ours.
My thoughts and prayers this Christmas, therefore, will be with our Christian sisters and brothers in Bethlehem. I pray that it will be safe for them and permitted to them to gather in the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square to celebrate the Incarnation. As they do I want the Christians of Bethlehem to believe and know that when they kneel at that place, marked by a silver star and believed by many to be the actual birthplace of the Holy Child, millions of Christians around the world kneel with them and hold them closest of all in their hearts. They kneel there for us, we kneel there with them. Just as the people of Ireland were remembered throughout the world in constant prayer during the years of our conflict, prayers that have been answered in the new beginnings of 2007, so the Christians of Bethlehem need to know the sustaining strength and solidarity of our prayers for them in their time of trial. Those who suffer need to know that they are not forgotten, especially at a time when many rejoice.
All of which brings me home and to my final thought. While most, this Christmas, will give thanks for the new beginnings in Ireland, many others will have troubled memories of grievous loss. There is no need for us fully to adjudicate who is and who is not a genuine victim of our troubled past, it is sufficient to be aware that many look back with tears and a sense of loss this Christmas. Let them not, in looking back, feel that they are forgotten or alone. That which is lost can never be restored, but memories are precious and deserving of respect. What is more, the grieving and the injured still need to know the healing that comes through compassion. In that most extravagant act of compassion the Christ of God was born as at this time for all of us – none are excluded from his care. Extravagant compassion is still the life to which Christians are called through the Incarnation of the Son of God. Let us make such extravagant compassion the hallmark of our life together in the years ahead and so share with each other that deep peace which comes from the heart of God alone.
Christmas message from the Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Revd John Neill
Christmas is for most of us a time to be at home. Home is more than a place – it is people - family and friends, who help us to feel at home.
The Christmas story tells us of God choosing to make his home among us in Jesus. Jesus, born in a stable, living as a refugee, and eventually growing up in Nazareth had a variety of experiences of home during his life on earth. Later he was to say – “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. Such deprivation is still part of lot of many in the modern world. In coming among us, and encountering such harsh realities, Jesus showed us just how real God’s love is.
Homelessness can mean having no home of your own or living in ghastly and overcrowded conditions. At its worst, homelessness involves sleeping rough on the streets, or seeking a bed in an emergency shelter.
Among the homeless are many children, especially those in the early and mid-teens. They may have no families, or they may have fled from violence or abuse, but the tragic thing is that they are quickly on a downward spiral. Even if they are fortunate enough to find emergency accommodation, they are at high risk of abuse or of intimidation and indeed of being sucked quickly into the drug culture.
Recently in a nationwide survey, children themselves were given an opportunity to say what was most important to them, and the clear answer was that family and care was of the greatest significance to them. The homeless child is deprived of both.
Christmas provides us with an opportunity to support those who are endeavouring to face the problems of homelessness, especially among children. It also challenges us each to give to all children the love and security that they so need, and that they tell us that they need.
In Jesus, God identifies with human suffering and refuses to stand aside. Christmas is all the more wonderful for us if we share something of the love of Jesus who reached out to all in need, and especially to children.
Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall, Primate - Anglican Church of Australia
Plenty of room in the inn
Two weeks ago I was in Bethlehem where Jesus and Christmas were born. A Palestinian man said to me ‘2000 years ago we made a mistake saying “There is no room at the inn". Today there’s plenty of room.’
It was a sad comment on the devastating effects on the Palestinian economy of the long-running conflict with Israel. Hotel occupancy has actually improved from 10% a few years ago to 50% today. But with unemployment running at about the same rate and a segregated road system, road blocks and checkpoints making movement of people and goods difficult at best and impossible at worst things are grim. Christmas is not such a happy time in Bethlehem these days.
A few days earlier I had stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across the valley to Jerusalem. I had stood in roughly the same place Jesus stood 2000 years ago. Then he wept for the city saying, ‘If only you recognised the things that make for peace.’ As I stood there these words echoed in my ears.
At his birth the angels announced ‘peace on earth’. 2000 years later there is trouble and conflict as far as the eye can see.
Yet Christmas remains a festival of hope because the life lived by the Christmas child revealed the things that make for peace: respect for all human beings, acceptance, neighbourliness, kindness, gentleness, humility, forgiveness, wisdom. These things make for peace in our own hearts, in our families, in our neighbourhoods and workplaces, in our nation and in our world.
Let us recognise the things that make for peace and grasp the hope held out to us by this birth.
Embargoed until midnight 21/12/07
Christmas Message from Archbishop Peter Jensen - Sydney
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus - the Bible records a prediction by the prophet Isaiah. He says "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". Given the way we now think of governments, this may seem a strange way to put it. After all, the Australian people have spoken to change our national government and we now think of the government as being on Kevin Rudd's shoulders and the shoulders of his ministers.
But what I once told John Howard is true of Kevin Rudd also - we all have a higher authority to which we are accountable and ultimately, God has placed the government of us all on the shoulders of Jesus, the one the prophet Isaiah spoke about. That is a radical change of perspective!
If we imagine ourselves as independent human beings who do not need God - the world will prove us wrong. Climate change - for example. It is right we take action but our own actions must be accompanied by prayer to the God who sends the thunder and the rain.
It is vital that action continues to be taken to protect children in aboriginal communities but we must also help and pray for those who have already been affected. There is a dark legacy of abuse that may leave its mark for generations to come.
Our government, under God, also has a responsibility to look outward - to help our overseas neighbours both in peace and in war. The price some have paid for this came home to me this month as I took the funeral of Private Luke Worsley, killed in action in Afghanistan. We must pray for the safety of the men and women who serve Australia overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor and elsewhere.
On a local level, it will be our SES volunteers and bushfire fighters who serve and support neighbours during the coming summer - it is right we pray also for their safety and well-being.
Finally, may I wish you and yours a joyous time of celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a time to connect with friends and family and to rest and relax. I hope you are able to do that this Christmas, remembering the great truth we celebrate at this time, that Jesus is God come down to us in flesh - the God of the universe connecting with us.
Christmas message from the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier
Make time to reflect on a timeless story this Christmas
Christmas holds a very special place in the hearts of many Australians - Christmas trees, decorations, carols, church, turkey, presents.
But there is also extraordinary stress at this time as we frenetically shop, attend end of year parties and wind down for the year.
In the midst of this, we need to find a time of quiet reflection. Christmas is a story of utter simplicity and poverty, and also of a primal joy that all of us feel at the birth of a baby.
But it is also a timeless story because of what it says about the love of God – a completely self-giving, no-strings-attached love of God for all people.
Jesus’ life demonstrated the power of self-giving, selfless love to heal, transform and build the community around him; and that real relationship is based on love and concern for the other.
As families gather around the table, there are many others who are grieving the death of loved ones, who are lonely and isolated, who are homeless or separated from their relatives.
The birth of Jesus reminds us that we are born to be in relationship. Let’s not get caught up in the consumerism of this time of year, but instead use this time to re-energise; to embrace the spirit of generosity and connect with each other and with our God.
I wish you and your family a happy and Holy Christmas.
Embargoed until Saturday, December 22nd
Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan
One of the great problems our world faces is the growth of fundamentalism. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a religious movement based on strict adherence to certain tenets held to be non negotiable”. And the words non negotiable say it all – because fundamentalists believe so strongly in the truth of their convictions that they assume they are right and any contrary opinion is wrong.
A new phenomenon has arisen in our country however, what can be called atheistic fundamentalism. It advocates that religion in general and Christianity in particular have no substance and assumes that most people will accept their premise that the religion in general and the Christian faith in particular, has no value and is superstitious nonsense.
To have a coherent and rational debate about the tenets of the Christianity is perfectly natural. To have a virulent, almost irrational attack upon it claiming that what is being said is self evidently true is dangerous, not just because it refuses to allow any contrary viewpoint but also because it affects the public perception of religion. It leads, for example, to local authorities calling Christmas ‘Winterval’, to hospitals removing all Christian symbols from hospital chapels, or to schools refusing to put on nativity plays, or allowing children to send Christmas cards with a Christian message, or airlines refusing staff the freedom to wear a cross round their necks.
All of this is what I would call the new ‘fundamentalism’ of our age and any kind of fundamentalism, be it Biblical, atheistic or Islamic, is dangerous, because it allows no room for disagreement, for doubt, for debate, for discussion. It leads to the language of expulsion and exclusivity, of extremism and polarisation, and the claim that because God is on our side, He is not on yours.
Contrast all that with the message of the angel to the shepherds in the nativity story in St Luke’s Gospel, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people”. It is a message of joy and good news for everyone – no one is excluded, everyone is embraced, from the shepherds, who would have been seen as nobodies by respectable Jewish society, to the magi - Gentiles, who would have been strangers in the land.
The Gospel writers make the point that Jesus is the focus of all God’s promises and purposes from the beginning of creation. God is not exclusive, he is on the side of the whole of humanity with all its variety.
And that can be an uncomfortable truth to embrace. When Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry goes to the synagogue at Nazareth and says that God has anointed him:
“to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release for the oppressed and to proclaim the Lord’s favour,” his fellow countrymen drive him out; they cannot cope with such a God as this, a God who is all embracing especially those who are life’s victims. The God they want is a far more tribal figure, a God made in their own image, a God whom they can control and manipulate and manage.
But that is not the God portrayed in the nativity stories and therefore not the God of Jesus.
A Joint Christmas Greeting from Anglican Primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz and ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson
Grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It gives us great pleasure to write to you together as the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in order to send you our best wishes for a blessed Advent and a joyous celebration of Christmas.
In a world where there is much conflict, we give thanks for the birth of the Prince of Peace.
In a world where there is much division, we celebrate the unity we have in Christ.
In a world where many are in need, we ask to be given generous hearts and willing hands.
In a world where many are alone, we rejoice in the richness of our relationship of Full Communion.
Our hope and prayer for each one of you is that you will be able to join us in proclaiming with the hymnist:
“Oh, join with me, in gladness sing, to keep our Christmas with our king, until our song, from loving souls, like rushing mighty water rolls.”
The Most Revd Fred Hiltz - Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church of Canada
The Revd Susan C. Johnson - National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Beyond Christmas: A Message from Scotland’s Christian Leaders
A Christmas message from the Most Rev Dr Idris Jones, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and leaders of Scotland's other major Christian denominations:
"Peace be with you! We're often told that Christmas is stressful for some and lonely for others and too much of a spending frenzy for the majority. It needn’t be. Christmas is also a time when we look beyond ourselves and when deep down we want only the best for those closest to us and for all who are in need in our world.
"It is a time to hear again the familiar story of the birth of Jesus Christ. A time when we long for peace on earth and goodwill among all people.
"But Christmas is more than simply the celebration of the birth of a baby. The story takes us beyond the glitter and the tinsel and the lights to something much deeper.
"Most of us experience a sense of awe and wonder when we stand at the foot of a cradle and gaze on a newly born baby. As we see the crib scenes in the centres of our cities, towns and villages, we are moved again by the memory of that experience. And as we feel it, we are invited to look beyond the baby, to catch a glimpse of God whose gift is hope; the hope of peace and goodwill, of beauty and love. We are invited to look beyond what we see, however bleak it might seem, to discover signs of goodness and beauty, of hope, of joy wherever people are trying to do their best.
"The Christmas story tells us about people trying to do their best in a pretty bleak situation – a couple forced to go to another town for a census, a man doing his best for the woman to whom he was engaged and who was heavily pregnant, but not by him, and an inn keeper trying to do his best for the couple when all the accommodation in town was taken. And, in this very human drama, the birth of a baby.
"Then there is the unexpected invitation to the shepherds, an invitation to us all, to go and see in the new-born child the signals of hope for all the earth – to see love and joy and goodness and beauty, the signs of God’s presence on earth and the gift of hope for peace and goodwill among all people.
"At times it is hard not to feel down-hearted when our best does not seem good enough: when things go wrong with our relationships despite our best intentions; when tragedy hits families or communities both near and far; when so much of our news is about violence, destroying people and our environment.
"Christmas is a time for looking beyond these to see goodness and beauty in those around us; to look at tragedy and see the stories of kindness and compassion that carry with them the hope of life beyond the darkness; to look at the violence and see the efforts made to change these patterns and see in them signals of hope for a safer world; to look at our environment and see the beauty that is there and to hear the call for green alternatives as signals of hope for our planet.
"When we accept the invitation to look beyond the surface, we become open to signals of hope for ourselves, our families and our world. This is part of God’s gift that is celebrated at Christmas but which does not stop there. God invites us to look beyond.
"May we all share God’s gift of love and hope this Christmas and in the year that lies ahead."
This message was written by:
The Most Rev Dr Idris Jones, Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church
Rt Rev Sheilagh Kesting, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
His Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O’Brien, Archbishop & Metropolitan of St Andrews and Edinburgh
Rev Lily Twist, Chair of the Methodist Synod in Scotland
Pamala McDougall, Clerk, General Meeting for Scotland, The Religious Society of Friends
Major Robert McIntyre, Scotland Secretariat, The Salvation Army
Rev David Cartledge, Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland
Rev John Humphreys, Moderator, United Reformed Church Synod of Scotland
Brother Stephen Smyth, General Secretary, Action of Churches Together in Scotland
A video message from the Anglican Bishop of Portugal
O Bispo D. Fernando da Luz Soares apresenta em vídeo mensagem de natal
Link to video: http://igreja-lusitana.org/Videos/mensagemnatal.mpg
2007 Christmas Message from the Jerusalem Heads of Churches
"He came to his own, and his own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." St. John, ch.1 vv.11-13
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
1. Another Christmas is upon us and still we seek Peace for this Holy Land amidst continuing hardships. At the sane time it is important for us to reflect carefully on what the Evangelist is trying to put before us about God's gift to us of Jesus, born in Bethlehem's manger, together with the clear response God asks of each one of us.
Amidst our difficulties, we need to meditate upon what links us in the same time to God and this land. In this Land, we ask for our freedom, for the end of the Occupation. We mention the difficulties coming form “the Wall of Separation” that has transformed our cities in big prisons. With God, we are linked because our dignity comes from His dignity, and we are His children and the work of His hands. And we must keep in mind that it is not fleshly descent or human effort which makes us the children of God, and it is not human strength alone that makes us strong. Rather it is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. Christmas reminds us that our faith is not only a human belonging to a group, or to a community different from the others by its religion, We are called to make a personal commitment to Jesus. Such a commitment tells the world and particularly those around us that we are prepared to witness and live by our reliance on Jesus the Word of God, born in Bethlehem, and who brought to us durable and firm peace in our hearts.
2. So often human beings believe they are capable of making peace through their own efforts; demanding conditions of their own choosing. However, when God gave us His Son to be born of a human mother and to experience all aspects of human life He did so in order that we might discern the way to resolve our difficulties from His example and teaching. Therefore we pray for ourselves in order to understand the strength God gave us when He gave us His Eternal Word born in Bethlehem. So we pray for our political leaders that God may inspire them and make them examine their conduct and demands in the light of God's commandments always remembering their own accountability to Him, in this very life and in the process of the conflict itself.
So dear Sisters and Brothers whilst we are truly conscious of the many problems of unemployment, poverty and frustration which many of you continue to face each day, we would still urge you to remember the words of the Apostle:
May "the peace of God rule in your hearts ..." and "the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom."
Colossians ch.3 vv. 15, 16
We as Christians must continue to offer our prayers to God for all those around us who are struggling to care for their families, not least the young children and the elderly. We rejoice with those families now enjoying the company of those recently released from prison whilst persisting in our efforts to encourage the release of thousands more who have the same right to have back their freedom and return to the joy of their families and children.
Amidst our sufferings, we share the sufferings of the others. We have a particular thought for the countless thousands across the world who have endured great disasters
as a result of the devastating cyclones and subsequent floods of recent months. We pray for them. And for all of us we repeat the verse of the Gospel:
"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
St. John ch.3, v.16
3. To our Sisters and Brothers across the world: we are greatly encouraged by your continuing pilgrimages to this Land: we thank you for your presence with us. During your pilgrimage as well you learn at first hand of the difficulties of your fellow Christians here as well as following in the footsteps of our Blessed Lord. Thank you for your prayers and the many expressions of your love and care for everyone here.
If Peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as Political leaders. Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Moslem or Jew and Druze. He tells us that we are able to make peace and overcome all obstacles with the power which the Prince of peace, born in Bethlehem, brought us.
We wish everyone a truly Happy Christmas and God's richest blessings on their homes and families.
Jerusalem, December 2007
Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem
Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, R.C. Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr Pierbattista Pizziballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Mounib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian-Catholic
Bishop George Baker, Greek Catholic
Fr. Rafael Minassian , Armenian Catholic