Bishop's Letter: Closed doors, open doors...
I think this is my 38th Christmas as an ordained person! Early on in my ministry I worried that I might run out of things to say about Christmas after say, ten years. After dozens of talks at family services, eucharists, and carol services, I am amazed to observe that each year I can still see something new to me in these stories of old.
I read Luke 2:7 and it struck me. We're told that there was no room for Jesus then, and my observation is that in our society today, Jesus seems to be increasingly shut out. In particular shut out of public discourse.
Let me explain. As our culture moves towards a more secular worldview and the atheists in our society seem ever more confident, our institutions seem to be more and more uncertain as to what input faith might make in contributing to the common good. On a local radio phone in it was put to me by a caller that I seemed “too sensible to believe in fairy stories!”
The Chairman of one of our major political parties has attracted criticism simply because he made the comment that it was his belief in God that drove his passion for social justice. He wasn't claiming that everyone who is passionate about social justice is somehow deficient if they don't have faith; simply that for him, his faith committed him to this concern.
All this hostility doesn’t seem to me to be particularly rational. Here's my point: the space for the input of faith in our public spaces getting smaller and consequently faith is being marginalized in the very culture which it had a major part in forming.
But does this matter? After all I have throughout my ministry constantly been told, even by some Christians, that faith and politics don't mix.
Well, I want to say that it really does matter and I want to see Christians and other faith groups make their contribution to public debate and the outcomes of such debate. In other words I think that the common good is immediately undermined by shutting out people of faith.
I think we have much to contribute to education, social ethics, holistic community and social justice. According to Peter Brierley church membership across all churches totals over 5 million. Add to that other faith communities and you are talking about a significant number of people. Anglicans make up about one million of that number. If our contribution to the common good was taken away, communities up and down the country would be significantly less than they could be. Our contribution, though sometimes undervalued, would certainly be missed.
So what do we do? I think there are three things we might consider. First, before the door in the public place slams on us we need to, metaphorically speaking, put a foot in the door. I think we can't keep quiet about this, and we need to develop a more defiant tone in this process of being marginalised. 'We have a Gospel to proclaim' and I don't think we should be ashamed of telling it.
Second, a form of Christianity, or any faith, which is not lived out beyond the comfort zone of our local places of worship will seem empty to a critical world. Think of one thing, more if you like, you could do this Christmas that would bless another person or group. This might be through a donation to a Charity or through a simple act of kindness.
Thirdly, in your mind's eye come to that manger of old where the door is open to anyone. When you confront the Christ child, you meet the One who came to usher in a new way of living that will bring a bigger and better world for all human beings. The great news is that no one who pushes at this door will be shut out!
Have a joyful and blessed Christmas.