Archbishop of York’s Christmas message

Christmas truce: The example of the British and German soldiers who played football together on Christmas Day in no-man's land shows how a leap of faith can pay off.
Christmas truce: The example of the British and German soldiers who played football together on Christmas Day in no-man's land shows how a leap of faith can pay off.
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WHAT a special joy it is to be in Yorkshire to celebrate Christmas – are you ready in God’s own county to celebrate the birthday of Jesus?

On Christmas Day, we celebrate God’s most amazing gift, freely given to us all. He gave us everything he had, by sending us his Son to be the Saviour of the world. We do well to receive this most costly gift with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

God is not the only big spender. This year North Yorkshire is set to top the regions list at Christmas, with an average outlay of £508.82 per household, and 
25 per cent saying they may spend up 
to £1,000.

Despite times of austerity, people want to celebrate – even if it means paying the bill for Christmas well into 2015.

This may not be the best strategy to have, but it says something about human nature made in the image of God that we want to celebrate together come what may.

I always say that Christianity is about prayer and parties. This is true, but it doesn’t mean parties are always easy – they have a cost.

In many low income families, parents may be working all the hours God sends, but are taking home less than a living wage.

For families like them, the cost of Christmas is about much more than just money.

The impact of debt on the health and wellbeing of families and children is well-documented.

If only all the employers were paying a living wage. We all want to give our families a Christmas to remember, but at what cost?

The reality is Christmas has never come cheap. It has never been without cost, without venture or without risk.

That goes even for the first Christmas, when Mary and Joseph had to leave home, just when Mary was due to give birth, and risk travelling south from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The commemoration of the First World War gave us a glimpse of another risky journey a century ago in 1914.

Six months into the First World War, when British and German soldiers in their trenches in France began to sing “stille nacht, heilige nacht – silent night, holy night”, something amazing happened.

Peace broke out. Next morning, Christmas Day, soldiers on both sides gingerly stood above the parapet then risked walking out across no-man’s land to greet their enemy. Imagine being the first soldier to risk a look over the parapet.

And yet, seeing that risk pay off, other soldiers defied orders and took the bold step of reaching out to greet the soldiers of the other side as if they were their own brothers. Some even enjoyed a game of football together.

If only this dramatic outbreak of peace had continued. The next morning the order came to resume the battle. Neither side dared to risk following through the Christmas message of peace they had shared the day before.

Having a venturesome faith requires that you are willing to take risks. When you pray, you are not guaranteed of any outcome and you never know where your prayers may lead you.

I have huge admiration for all the health workers and others who have volunteered to go out to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to help bring the Ebola epidemic under control.

They heard the need, they knew they had the skills, they knew the dangers – and they stepped up to the line. Many of them underwent special training here in York prior to flying out.

Whether they know it or not, what they are doing is living out the Christmas message – like God in Jesus, taking the risk of turning words of love and commitment into action, whatever the cost.

The God we encounter in Jesus Christ is not one who stays in the comfort of an insulated, isolated heaven. Far from it. He ventures to be with us, amongst us, and alongside us wherever we may be.

As our Creator, He understood and took on our humanity in Jesus Christ. So, if we are in pain, in grief – he has borne our sorrows. If we are homeless – we are told “he had nowhere to lay his head”. If we are hungry – we read that in the desert he longed for bread. If we are unfairly treated – so was he. If we are ashamed – he carried the burden of our guilt. If we are sick – by his wounds, we are made whole. Even in anger he is with us, raging against the injustice of his day and in our days. So as he calls us to take the risk of following him, he promises to be with us all the way.

“Immanuel” means “God with us”. Don’t be afraid – whatever you are called to do, you can do it because God is with you. Christmas gives me immense hope for the world – and for the difference you and I can make, as we are enlisted into what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God”.

Let the light of Christ shine in us all this Christmas, and bring hope to the world. A very happy Christmas to you all!