Bishop Richard's Christmas Message 2017

We reproduce Bishop Richard's Christmas message to the readers of the Warrington Guardian

Lonely this Christmas
There are many parts to Christmas you just can’t escape and one of those is the continual loop of the Christmas album. It’s hard to escape Merry Christmas Everybody or some similar Christmas classic booming out in every shop doorway. Then, in among the festive joviality, you often get Mud’s, Lonely this Christmas a more sober song from someone feeling the absence of a loved one.

That brings me up short. For like so many I want to talk about the joys of Christmas, the gathering together of family, the games, the food and the laughter. And of course I want to talk about the joys of the Christmas story. It was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ in that Bethlehem stable which created the joy. We know that because the angels commanded us to rejoice proclaiming that Jesus brought Joy to the World.

But I know many are in fact lonely this Christmas. Many find Christmas more painful than joyful, separated from their loved ones by death, distance or breakdown in the relationship. Research has shown that more and more of our elderly population face Christmas knowing that won’t see a single person.

Is Christmas not for them then? No, of course, that’s not the case for the bible tells us that God loved the whole world. That he sent his son to be among the whole world, to understand our suffering and to be alongside those who are in need. That’s the deep joy of Christmas. The knowledge that this is the start of a story that goes from the poverty of a stable, through the agony of the cross to the joy of resurrection. A story of God being with us in every part of our lives, not waving a wand to make everything magically better. That’s a false promise. The real promise is that God is giving us strength.

As Christians we need to recognise that but we also need to recognise that knowing this for ourselves is not enough. The lonely, pained people are all around us and we need to reach out. I know of many churches that do this. Through organising lunches for folk, supporting foodbanks and creating services that reach out to those who find the celebratory tone of Christmas a challenge.

When Jesus was born God was reaching out a hand of friendship to the world. This Christmas we need all faiths and none, to pause from our own celebrations and reach out that hand of friendship to others offering the deep joy that true love can bring.