'Peace on earth, good will to all men' – the message of the angels to the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. Writing this in mid-November my eyes were drawn to a newspaper that said that there will be no Christmas tree or decorative lights in Manger Square in Bethlehem, the place which traditionally marks the place where Christ was born. The reason, according to the municipality is that this is 'in honour of the martyrs and in solidarity with our people in Gaza'.
It's one of the saddest articles I have read. We may have different thoughts on the terrible tragedy that is Gaza. But the thought of the birth of Christ being associated with hatred and division is scarcely bearable. As 2023 ends and 2024 dawns the message of the angels has never been more pressing than it is at this time. God as man came to this earth as a figure of peace and unity. He came to draw everyone to Himself, and the symbolic place associated with His birth mocks that peace in the hatred felt by people there. And yet it sums up the world as a whole. For there is so much hatred and division in the world. It is particularly poignant that in this place of all places there should be such bitterness and division. But the icy tentacles of division reach out beyond Bethlehem. Gaza has driven the problems in the Ukraine more into the background for example but it is a running sore, and as with Gaza there seems no end in sight and peace (as I write) seems far far away, with all its violence and suffering.
Beyond it there is more hatred and mistrust. The re-emergence of anti-Semitism has been a by-product of the crisis in Gaza, and this is a stain on our country. So is racialism. Elsewhere there are areas of the world where there is little peace, even if it is seen as mistrust between nations and factions. If Christmas and the New Year is to be more than the chance for a bit of sentimentality and a bout of attempted gastronomic suicide, then it must represent a conscious working towards that peace and unity which the Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. And if you say that individuals cannot achieve anything, then large amounts of water can only come from many individual drops coming together to become a flood.
Christ came to be the Prince of Peace. He also came as the personification of love and healing. Christmas is a symbol of that most basic form of love, a mother for her child. Mary represents love in its fullest form; without it Christmas just becomes a sentimental extravaganza. The Christ who is the symbol of love being received becomes the Christ who is the personification of love reaching out. Love for the world, but also love of each individual on earth. In love Christ comes down to earth. He is love incarnate.
So love and peace together lie at the heart of Christmas in all its many aspects. The Prince of Peace is the Giver of Love. May these be God's gift to you at this Christmas time. May it also be a task for the coming year, to channel peace and love to others, a resolution for the New Year.
Sadly I cannot be with you again in the parish this season as I have promised to minister elsewhere. We as a family are then getting together for 24 hours as a family, with the seven sadly now only six. So, Jo and Liz my daughters, Paul my son in law, and Katy and Emily my grand daughters and I wish you personally every blessing for Christmas and very best wishes for 2024.