Catholic Bishop of East Anglia’s annual Christmas message
The Bishop of East Anglia, the Rt Rev Alan Hopes’ annual Christmas message to city residents
On Christmas night, the angel of God appeared to simple shepherds, and said to them: “glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of good will”. He invited them to come and worship the new-born Jesus, cradled in the arms of Mary. These shepherds were ordinary people, working hard day and night in the fields around Bethlehem.
The prophets called this child Emmanuel, which means God-is-with-us. God created all things and continues to hold all things together. God is not distant. He is very close to us. In Jesus, God is one of us. He now shares in our poverty and suffering. He now shares in the life and experiences of each human person, no matter their personal histories or mistakes. God made each one of us. And he loves each one of us. He loves you.
The historical world that Jesus was born into seems very distant to us in twenty-first century western Europe. But although our surroundings, technologies, and philosophies always change over time, we ourselves remain the same, with hearts that yearn for love and with minds that yearn for faithfulness to the truth. Those minds and hearts are often tired and broken by life, and in our human sadnesses, the darkness of our human winter, we all yearn for a glimmer of hope.
In that ancient world, people really only had hope: their country was occupied, their worldly glory was long-gone, and everything was always on the brink of a calamity and conflict. And they were physically vulnerable to sickness and unexpected death. They knew from sad experience that so many things were beyond their power. Everybody, both rich and poor, yearned so much for an answer to life’s questions, and yearned for peace in the midst of uncertainty. Looking around us today, we might recognise some of those human needs which need to be answered with love, because the hopeful light of Jesus still shines in his Church, his people, ordinary people who, like the shepherds, come to worship him on Christmas night.