The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Ecumenical Christmas Letter to churches around the world.
“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2. 10)
Earlier this year I made a very moving visit to the Holy Land. Amid a busy schedule of meetings and visits there were some moments of stillness and prayerful encounter with the living God. At the traditional sites associated with Our Lord’s life, ministry, death and resurrection we were able to stop and to pray. In Nazareth we prayed with Mary, the Mother of God, at the site of the annunciation; in Bethlehem, amidst the activity of restoration works in the Church of the Nativity, we found that place of quiet where Christians come to venerate Jesus’ birth; in Jerusalem, in the restored aedicule within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we rejoiced in the resurrection of our crucified Lord.
The gospel story, the saving story of Jesus Christ is good news indeed. The Gospel according to St Luke tells us the story of the good news announced to the Shepherds. On the hillsides above Bethlehem the Angel of the Lord appeared and brought good news. The good news was none other than the birth in Bethlehem of a Saviour, the Christ, the Lord.
This year we have learned a new phrase in various parts of the world. This phrase is ‘fake news’. Fake news is dishonest; it is deliberate misinformation published in order to deceive, to confuse and disrupt. Fake news is used as a weapon to achieve dishonest advantage and to subvert honest debate and discussion. It is the antithesis of the good news. Fake news is but lying and does not come from God.
But we like the Angels proclaim good news and, like the Shepherds, we receive good news. The good news is good news for all people, whatever their situation in life. It is good news for politicians and leaders but is also good news for the refugees and displaced persons who continue to flee from danger and seek safety and sanctuary. As St Gregory Nazianzen writes:
He who gives riches becomes poor, for he assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may assume the richness of his Godhead. He that is full empties himself, for he empties himself of his glory for a short while, that I may have a share in his fullness. (Oration 38. 13)
This is truth and this is good news. As receivers of the good news we are called to pass on the good news and to make real the promise of that good news to those in need. In a poem reflecting on the evangelist St Luke, the poet and priest Malcolm Guite wrote:
“He breathes good news to all who bear a burden
Good news to all who turn and try again,
The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,
A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,
The voiceless find their voice in every word
And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.”
(from “St Luke”, in Sounding the Seasons, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2012))
This Christmas I pray that we might, as Christians with one voice, proclaim again the good news that is our salvation in Jesus Christ.
In His Peace
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury