The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams says that the care he saw being given to a baby in Bethlehem was a shining reminder of the Christmas message – that God’s love comes to us as a gift.
In his sermon, Dr Williams tells how, whilst visiting a crèche attached to Bethlehem’s Holy Family Hospital funded by international donations, he cradled an abandoned new-born child in his arms. He recounts asking the hospital's director, Robert Tabash why the standard of care was so good, despite the harsh economic conditions in the town:
“Dr Tabash said that all of this is important simply because ‘the poorest deserve the best’ …'The poorest deserve the best': when you hear that, I wonder if you can take in just how revolutionary it is. They do not deserve what’s left over when the more prosperous have had their fill, or what can be patched together on a minimal budget as some sort of damage limitation. And they don’t ‘deserve’ the best because they’ve worked for it and everyone agrees they’ve earned it. They deserve it simply because their need is what it is and because where human dignity is least obvious it’s most important to make a fuss about it.”
Dr Rowan Williams also urges pilgrims to visit the Holy Land in support of all the communities who live there. Reflecting on his recent experiences in the region, he says that one of the striking things about the visit was the challenge posed by the lack of hope for a political solution:
“One of the most chilling things on this journey to the Holy Land was the almost total absence in both major communities of any belief that there was a political solution to hand. So step back from that for a moment and ask, ‘What do both the communities in the Holy Land ask from us – not just from that convenient abstraction, the “international community”, but from you and me?’
What was needed to create trust and hope, he said, was ordinary people reaching out to the region:
“Go and see, go and listen; let them know, Israelis and Palestinians alike, that they will be heard and not forgotten. Both communities in their different ways dread –with good reason – a future in which they will be allowed to disappear while the world looks elsewhere. The beginning of some confidence in the possibility of a future is the assurance that there are enough people in the world committed to not looking away and pretending it isn’t happening. It may not sound like a great deal, but it is open to all of us to do; and without friendship, it isn’t possible to ask of both communities the hard questions that have to be asked, the questions about the killing of the innocent and the brutal rejection of each other’s dignity and liberty.”
Christmas, he says, is a reminder that God’s love overflows into our lives despite that fact that we cannot ever earn it.
“The child I held last Friday had no merits and achievements; he deserved the best in spite of – or because of - having nothing but his helplessness. …
“God does not let us have what’s left over from the grace given to holy and honourable people, he doesn’t look around for some small bonus that might come from the end-of-year surplus in the budget. He gives the best: himself; his life, his presence, in his eternal Son and Word; he gives Jesus to be born, to die and rise again and to call us into full fellowship with him in the Spirit. He gives us his own passion and urgency to go where human dignity is most threatened and pour out extravagantly the riches of love.”
Notes for editors:
Dr Williams’ sermon will be preached at Canterbury Cathedral at the main 11 am Christmas day service.
The full text of the sermon will be posted on the archbishop’s web site at 11 am (or very soon thereafter).
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