Saturday, December 24, 2005


Christmas is a strange event. It's seized on by some as the most significant part of the Christian year, as proof that anything can be commercialized for others and further proof of the death of religion on this country for still others. However, on further examination of all these theories, as well as looking at national and personal events of the last twelve months, it becomes clear to me that the situation is a little more complicated.

Christianity has two main celebrations every year; the first is to mark the arrival of the Son of God on Earth and the other to mark his departure. Total church attendances at Christmas are about 1.2 million on an average Sunday but on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day total nearly 3 million. On Easter Sunday it's about 2 million. It is clear that Christmas is the greatest attraction in the Christian Calendar. However, without the events of Easter and the resurrection of Christ, the birth of a baby two thousand years ago in Bethlehem would be insignificant. So, many churches become sniffy about the sudden growth of their congregations at Christmas, arguing that many are missing the point of the faith. Indeed for me, the wonder of Easter was highlighted this year when I was confirmed on Easter Eve. The Congregation at Coventry Cathedral moved from the old, dark, destroyed Cathedral to the new, light, resurrected one. It was a metaphor for our lives, our faith and, indeed, our God. I believe that Christmas should be seen in the same way. The light of this time of year shines amongst the darkness. It is optimistic and Christians must hope that this light will touch some of the seasonal visitors, welcoming rather than shunning them.

Despite this, the fact remains that only three million attend a Christian worship. The God of shopping and commercialisation seems to reign. My Brother (a trainee manager at Sainsbury's) informs me that they will have taken nearly two million pounds in his store in the last week. People seem to think they need to stock up for a nuclear war and not the shops being closed for a mere two days. However, the very fact that people are wanting to stop, spend time as a family and bring joy to those around them in the form of food or presents is very traditional, indeed very Christian. Britain is still a predominantly Christian society even if the number of active followers is decreasing. The values of the faith still dominate but have taken a more worldly view.

This has been a year here in Britain where we have become aware like never before of the multitude of faiths in this country. With the bombings in London, conflicts in the world and our own, personal faith struggles, it has become clear that religion often seems distant in our lives. That said, the strengthening of inter-faith relationships along with the stories of survival that come from all these events is remarkable. All faiths can learn from each other and perhaps this Christmas Christians should focus on being as inclusive as possible. This summer I was staying near the Taizé community in France. This community preached peace and welcomed Christians of all denominations. Peace, its founder Brother Roger argued, should spread from person to person. He, like the former pope, believed in the power of young people to break down barriers between faiths. Whilst I was there, Brother Roger was stabbed in an attack by a woman suffering from mental health problems. I attended the Sunday Communion Service there a few days later, just two days before the funeral. There was a feeling of hope in the future and, despite this tragedy, the life, work and dream of Brother Roger must continue. His successor, Brother Alois, will produce his first Christmas message and will call afresh for all people to unite in peace. A message that all people, Christian or otherwise, should be able to agree with.

In conclusion, every person should feel welcome, joyous and peaceful at this time of year. Whatever their church attendance record is, whichever religion they belong to, whatever their race, class or sexuality, each human should be welcome.

I therefore send to you, those you love and those who love you, every blessing and pray you have a joyful, peaceful and loving Christmas.

Merry Christmas, CJG x


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