English archbishops and a Scottish cardinal offer their Christmas greetings to readers of the Herald
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster
I extend my warmest greetings to you at this special time of year, as we anticipate the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Christmas is of course a time to exchange gifts with loved ones. But let us not lose sight of what we are celebrating by doing so. The birth of Jesus should remind us that lasting satisfaction comes only from taking pleasure in what we can give, and not what we possess. We may give in many different ways, whether by giving time to someone who is often on their own, giving money to charities, working to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate than ourselves or giving our support to someone who is going through a hard time to let them know they are not alone. Among all the presents and frivolity at this time of year, Christmas is a time to remember what we are truly grateful for: the greatest gift who is Christ, given to us by God because of his love
The love of God, manifest in Christ Jesus, is a shining example of the ultimate act of giving and of sacrifice. Let us all reflect this love in sharing our kindness and generosity with others.
I wish you and your families a happy and holy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham
Over the weeks of Advent the centre of the city of Birmingham has been crowded with visitors to the popular German Market. Mostly these have been groups of people, families spending precious time together.
Being together with others is an important dimension of our Christmas celebrations and it reflects something at the heart of the Incarnation. Emmanuel is God-with-us. Christmas celebrates the overwhelming love of God that bursts into the world through the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus’s birth still has the power to move people, to bring us together to reflect and celebrate, and then to show kindness to one another.
There is a large and beautiful crib at the very heart of the German Market in Birmingham which I recently visited with the Rt Rev David Urquhart, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham. In this traditional representation of the birth of Christ the figures of shepherds and wise men surrounding the Holy Family once again tell a story that is in danger of being forgotten. It silently witnesses to the values of faith that are more important than ever for the well-being of our cities. One of those values is mentioned in the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah from St Luke’s Gospel. It speaks of the loving kindness of the heart of our God, who visits us like the dawn from on high. There is something about Christmas that moves us to be kinder and more considerate towards one another. We are living what we celebrate – a sharing in God’s loving kindness that comes to us through Christ like the daylight at the beginning of each day.
There is nothing sentimental about this kindness. It doesn’t depend on warm feelings before it happens. It is the simple desire to see the best in others, as God always shows us the best in ourselves.
Christmas empowers us to be kind in our dealings with others irrespective of whether we feel they deserve it, to give and receive forgiveness.
The spirit of this Christmas season can help us to set aside any differences or divisions that may have burdened us this year. As we come together with our families and friends let’s pray for the grace to forgive the unkindnesses that have hurt us and to show in our own lives the loving kindness of the heart of our God, who visits us like the dawn from on high.
I wish you and your families the blessings of unity and peace this Christmas – gifts that flow from the heart of our God.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh and St Andrews
It is indeed a privilege being asked to deliver a Christmas message at this time – and, for me, a joy to be able to use the themes suggested by this year’s Christmas stamps.
This year, in accordance with a recent convention of alternating secular and religious themes, religion and the Gospel story of the Nativity is very much to the fore. In fact, the 2011 Christmas stamps are exceptional, not simply in concept – they adopt the Nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke’s gospels – but in design. They are beautifully engaging and colourful renditions of that incredible, wonderful story of the birth of Jesus Christ, God made man.
This series of stamps tells that story and I believe it is one which our society needs to hear today more than ever before. That Nativity narrative is contained in the two quotations from St Matthew’s Gospel, which remind us that Mary will give birth to a son who must be named Jesus; and that this miraculous birth fulfils the prophecy in the Old Testament that a son will be born called Immanuel, a name which means “God is with us”. As we think of these words, we realise something of the love of God for his people in giving them his Son, and we realise the wonder of that message that that Son is God who is still with us.
Recent reports suggest that the cost of a child is now over £100,000 in its early years. In the midst of our plenty we may lavish many gifts on our newborn. Yet think of the lack of any expensive trappings in that birth in a stable, but realise that that child was surrounded by what is most important in the life of any person, namely, basic love. We heard recently that the population of our world has reached seven billion.
I wonder if each and every life is valued as it should be, as our Saviour was.
As at the first Christmas shepherds and kings, the poor and the rich, the deprived and the mighty altogether must realise this Christmas message of the love of God for mankind and of the response that should be given by each and every individual person in their own lives to that call of love from God.
Yes, at this Christmas time these words should give us encouragement to carry that message of love from the Nativity scene into our communities, our churches and our homes. God has indeed shown his love for us and given his Son, Jesus, as God-with-us. Our response must surely be one of love, especially at this time: love of God, love of our neighbour, love of those who are in most need at home and throughout our world.