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At a time of anger and division we draw comfort from the message of Christ

4 min read

The Bishop of Chelmsford delivers a Christmas message to readers of The House.

One of my favourite books of all time is by an American author called Henry van Dyke who was writing around the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries – I remember it from my childhood. It’s a short book, called The Other Wise Man, which can easily be read in one sitting.

It tells the tale of a fourth and unknown wise man who sets out along with his three colleagues, but they become separated, and he gets lost along the way to Bethlehem. This fourth wise man spends a lifetime searching for the Christ child, arriving eventually in Jerusalem 33 years later where he finally finds Jesus hanging on the cross.

It’s a profound and poignant tale about the significance of faith as a journey and it’s a vivid reminder that the stories we hear around Christmas and Epiphany are inextricably bound up with the stories of Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

There is a need for leaders in politics, faith and the communities we serve, to put aside our differences

During my year in the House of Lords I’ve engaged especially on issues around refugees and migration and also, in my capacity as Bishop for Housing, the housing crisis which this country faces. These are complex matters and in many ways they are very different in their nature. But they are also issues that are typical of the troubled times we live in.

Housing, migration and the refugee crisis all pose challenges of great concern in many of the communities we live in. They raise questions that can sometimes be a cause of anger and, particularly in the case of migration and the refugee crisis, great division. In each instance it is the poorest and the vulnerable who suffer the consequences and in each instance there is a need for leaders in politics, faith and the communities we serve to put aside our differences, to bring people together, and to work to identify solutions. 

I’m conscious that as we approach the beginning of another year so much uncertainty continues raging around us, exacerbated by persistent worries about the cost of living, the changing nature of society, as well as wars and civil unrest around the world.

And as we continue to strive and struggle towards finding solutions to so many challenges I find it comforting to remember that the same Christ child who drew kings and magi to his crib 2,000 years ago, is the one who invites us to follow him still today – to engage with the big questions of life and death, to plunge the spiritual depths of the soul and, even more importantly, to be people of peace, making a positive difference wherever we can. 

There’s no telling where the journey of faith may take you, possibly through places and periods of darkness – certainly, faith doesn’t offer immunity from suffering. But regardless of the destination, and regardless of the specifics of what we believe, the way we travel and the nature of our relationships shape and form us. And along the way, if we choose to, we can catch glimpses of God’s presence in smaller and larger ways – in the kindness of a stranger, for example, or the joy of an encounter or some unexpected inner transformation. 

The Christian understanding of Christmas is that God became human in the Christ child, and so every human being bears the mark of grace and beauty. Everyone around the Christmas table, and those for whom there is no table at which to gather – all people of every faith or of no faith – bear this beautiful image of grace. Happy Christmas! 

The Bishop of Chelmsford is a non-affiliated peer

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