At the centre of the Christmas story is a baby: Jesus, utterly dependent, lying in a borrowed manger. My own children are now young adults, but the arrival of a new life in a family is something most of us have experienced as parents or as wider family, and it’s not quickly forgotten. It is a moment of having and hoping: a new life, held in our hands, and the hope of all that is to come. What sort of a life will this little one live? What sort of a world will they inhabit as they grow older?
Jesus is the gift God wants us to have. It’s the miracle of God giving himself to us; in a sense, inviting us to hold him in our hands and to discover the joy that living with him brings. And in the having, we are led to hoping: what are God’s plans for this world? What does it mean that Jesus has redeemed us and is reconciling the whole world to himself? What could a God-orientated world be like?
But the hope of the baby in the arms of Mary quickly turns to a story of fear and violence. Matthew tells us that Mary, Joseph and their young baby ran for their lives to Egypt shortly after Jesus’s birth. Like many refugees today, the Holy Family were left far from their own community, dependent on others and unable to return to their own home.
It was with this story in mind that I launched the Diocese of Winchester’s dual appeal to support refugees from Syria and victims of flooding in Myanmar earlier this year. How could we, as the people of God in this Diocese, be hope and good news in those situations of fear and darkness? I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of people across Hampshire and East Dorset, who have so far given nearly £9,000 to the appeal. This money is going to support the work of Refugee Action, one of the UK’s leading refugee resettlement charities, which is helping to support refugees who have arrived in the UK by offering them safe places to stay, warm clothing and hot meals.
These donations are also supporting the work of the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF) in its work to support victims of flooding in Myanmar. Although it has received less media attention than the Syrian crisis, many people in Myanmar have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been affected by devastating floods and landslides which have engulfed homes and cut off vast parts of the country. Many people have lost all their possessions and been forced into camps as their homes remain under water.
As you prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, please consider giving one extra gift, something to bring hope in a dark place. You can donate online at: www.justgiving.com/teams/winchesterdioceseappeal.
Thank you for your generosity. I wish you all a truly happy Christmas and New Year.
The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester