The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is to use his Christmas sermon to pay tribute to the example of Christian forgiveness offered by two families in response to horrific violence.
In his Christmas sermon, to be preached later this morning (Sunday) in Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams says the example of Gee Walker, whose son Anthony was murdered in Liverpool earlier this year and that of the parents of Abigail Witchalls, who was left paralysed after a knife attack, illustrate the difference made possible by the 'miraculous love' offered by God to the human race.
'Why remember what happened at Bethlehem, why resist the efforts to reduce it to a brief fling of sentimental goodwill in the middle of bad weather? Because of people like these. They have known in their flesh and nerves just what the difference is that Jesus makes; it is not comfort or easy answers, it is the sheer fact that miraculous love is possible.'
Celebrating Christmas is important, he says, because it marks the anniversary of the moment when human history changed. Because of the difference Jesus makes, a world in which the sanctity of life was an alien concept has given way to one in which the landscape has changed.
'You may or may not believe what Christian doctrine says about the child in the manger but you will, consciously or not, be looking at the human world in a framework that Jesus Christ made possible.'
He goes on to warn of the need for vigilance against the loss of what he says Christianity brought:
'If we ever do come to forget not just the Christmas story but what it made possible&the arrival of a different humanity, there is enough, sadly, in our idle and self-obsessed hearts to let the ancient world begin to creep back a little more.'
Note for editors
The full text of Dr Williams' sermon will be circulated later today, embargoed until delivery, 1100 hrs, 25th December 2005.
Facilities at Canterbury Cathedral for the Christmas Day service are being organised by Chris Robinson, who can be contacted on 01227 762862.
The Press Office