The Bishops of Winchester, Southampton and Basingstoke have each written Christmas messages.
The Right Reverend Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester
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 Jonathan Frost, Bishop of Southampton
I wonder what traditions are part of the run up to Christmas for you. My family will buy a Christmas tree – no doubt after heated argument – from a farm which has real reindeer on show. We’ve been going to the same farm for years. It’s part of the build-up. One family member has started a personal tradition: this involves eating all the chocolates from an Advent Calendar in early September (a rushing to Christmas without much of a pause!). There’s the shopping, the making of cakes, the writing of lists, the redecoration, the big supermarket trip, the annual wrestling with Christmas cards and the tree lights… and the office do. Preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and the light and joy He brings to a needy and darkened world, is what the season of Advent is all about and we prepare in a thousand ways.
My preparation for Christmas wouldn’t be complete these days without the Rose Road Association Carol Service at Winchester College. As many readers will know, ‘Rose Road’ has worked with children, young people and their families, in Southampton and across the region, since 1952. The children and young people attending ‘Rose Road’ are often severely disabled. Responding to their needs requires, from networks and families, huge resources of love, endurance and practical care. Parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters willingly play their part in support. Some families in this situation will find themselves plunged into a real personal darkness, over-stretched and close to breaking point. It’s into this kind of situation that the team at Rose Road bring the light of hope by offering children, young people and their families a breather. They do much more besides. You might like to find out about this remarkable organisation at www.roseroad.org.uk. For me Rose Road is a little bit of Christmas hope all year round – a light shining in the darkness – as St John would say in telling the Christmas story. Enjoy the website. With all good wishes and my prayers at Christmas.
The Right Reverend David Williams, Bishop of Basingstoke
As we celebrate Advent and Christmas this year I hope and pray that there will be moments of awe and wonder, gratitude and celebration as we engage again with the Advent hopes and the promises of Christmas. And yet this season also contains other stories. September 2nd, a Turkish border Guard picked up the body of a three year old refugee, Aylan Kurdi. Aylan and other children in his family had drowned in the sea near the town of Bodrum. The Turkish newspapers called it “washed up humanity”. The image was picked up around the world prompting individuals, this diocese and nations to respond. Over the next few weeks we saw the largest movement of people across Europe since the Second World War.
“The Light shines in the darkness” Jesus was born into a world as dark as ours. Shortly after his birth, King Herod sent ruthless soldiers to assassinate every child under two years old – Jesus escaped by the skin of his teeth. He kept on escaping for the next thirty years. In the end they got him for where Herod’s sword failed, Pilate’s hammer succeeded. As he died the land was covered in day-time darkness, it was a though heaven itself was saying, this is the most dreadful day of all.
The message of Christmas dares to proclaim that it is here when darkness is at its deepest that we find light and hope. God took evil things, hatred, fear, violence and revenge, and he used those very things as the raw material from which to quarry our salvation. So the power of God is seen in symbols of weakness and vulnerability, in a manger and on a Cross. In these enduring symbols, we find power kept in check, power handed over, power utterly controlled by love.
One of the great Christmas titles for Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, assuring us that God is no distant spectator to the anguish of our world. As we turn to him in prayer and worship, we know that he understands from the inside. God shares our sufferings, and transforms and redeems them too. Light always dispels darkness, it is its very nature to do so, this baby in a manger is the light of the world.
These wonderful things of meaning and truth and God himself are not only at the centre of our world, but at the very heart and centre of our personal lives. It is all captured in the great Christmas prophecy:
The People that walked in darkness have seen a great light, light has dawned upon them, dwellers in land as dark as death, for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and his name will be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God Prince of Peace.