Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury's Ecumenical Christmas Letter

Dear Friends in Christ

“They were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod.” (Matt 2.12).

As soon as Our Lord is born, he is caught up in the terror and violence of our world. The wise men, without meaning to, prompt a tyrant to an act of dreadful barbarity. The life of the Incarnate Word of God is never to be spared the risk of suffering and death. Recalling the Massacre of the Innocents (on 28 December in the West) we affirm our faith that God’s action and presence are to be found in the darkest places of the world, alongside those who are exposed to pain and death.

In October during a pastoral visit to the churches of our Communion in India, I listened to a Christian from Orissa describe the murder of her husband as a result of his refusal to abandon his faith in Jesus Christ. In early November we had shocking news of atrocities against Christians in Iraq, and the whole Christian world prays and grieves with that small and courageous community living in daily danger. Regular reports reach us in the West of terrible atrocities against children in the war-torn lands of Congo, Sudan and other places. Every time such an outrage occurs, we are recalled to the reality of our involvement in the Body of Christ; when any member suffers, the whole Body suffers (I Cor 12.26).

But this in turn should rekindle our awareness of the positive reality of the Body, and the call and gift of God that comes with membership of the Body. Each of us is at every moment supported by every other through the life of the Body of baptised believers. Each of us is being fed and nourished by the Lord through this fellowship. And each of us is summoned to solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in prayer and action.

So we are called to daily involvement in prayer and advocacy for all our fellow-Christians in situations of oppression and danger – and all their neighbours too, of whatever belief, since the evils of violence and tyranny are not felt by Christians alone, nor can their sufferings be isolated from those of their neighbours. We are called to discover all the various ways in which we may express that solidarity. And we are humbled and gladdened by the fact that their courage and generosity in witness is God’s gift to all of us; their clear and brave service to the faith, even to the point of death, helps us grow and become firmer in our own faith.

Christ took a human body at Bethlehem so that he should always have a Body on earth. The body in the cradle is the first moment of the continuing life of the Mystical Body in which we learn how to be sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father and how to bring his love alive in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Bethlehem is the foundation for our mutual love and giving, and the responsibility we have for one another. And so it does not just inspire love, it makes love possible and actual in our world. Through our share in the Body, we are daily nourished in life and love, most especially when we celebrate our union in the Body through sharing in the Holy Eucharist.

At this season, let us thank God for the birth of the Word in a human body and soul, the birth which made it possible for us to be united once again with the life of God in unending communion. And let us resolve to live out that life of communion each day in our solidarity with and our work for all who live today in the shadow of the same kind of tyranny that threatened the life of Jesus himself.

To all who share the care of the churches of God and all their people I wish the blessings and joys of this holy Season.

© Rowan Williams 2010