[Church of Ireland] From The Most Revd Alan Harper, OBE, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland:
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in Westminster, the Spending Review and Budget in Dail Eireann, doom and gloom on the High Streets and in shopping malls, is anybody looking forward to Christmas? While there is real hardship and anxiety in current times which I in no way belittle, I do hope so, because the real news at Christmas is of people being valued for their intrinsic worth not for their purchasing power. It is news about human equality, the poor valued as much as the rich, the rich as much as the poor; the young esteemed as much as the old and the old as much as the young; the sick in body or mind no less and no more important than healthy folk; God loves and seeks to visit every one of us regardless of wealth, status or power.
That message of equality, if you like ‘parity of esteem’ in the eyes of God, is immensely important: the Christ child’s birth in the midst of harsh and challenging circumstances tells the poor, the homeless and the oppressed that they are worthy of his attention and that he is prepared to stand beside them in solidarity. The Christ child’s birth invites the rich and powerful to look out at the world and to see people as God sees them – as people worthy of respect and compassion.
There is a much neglected word which, perhaps, we have to reclaim and re-emphasize. The word is ‘kindness’. A kind word, a kind gesture can go a long way to making the lives of hard-pressed people bearable. It can light up a life. It says, ‘I’m someone, not no one. I count in the eyes of someone else.’ Christmas 2011 would be a good time to work on building a personal culture of kindness.
Christmas 2011 would also be a good time to focus more directly on the things in life that really bring satisfaction. Such things are embraced in the word ‘friendship’. Telling your loved ones you love them (not leaving them to wonder or guess); spending time in relaxed conversation with the glowing screens darkened for the evening; reminiscing and looking forward – reliving a shared past and planning a shared future; in other words revisiting your essential humanity rather than opting to be a digitized slave in a virtual world, such things might actually make Christmas distinctively human again!
And, so that your essential humanity can be made complete, go to church! Reconnect with your ‘spiritual you’ and with God, the source of unconditional love. He knows how things are for you and he cares, because he shared our highs and our lows, as well as that unspectacular hinterland of which most of our lives consist. Go to church, find people there who will be delighted to see you, and know yourselves to be truly valued, truly loved. Have a blessed and joyful Christmas