A Christmas Message from the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster
Christmas will soon be upon us and then, just as quickly, it’ll be gone and we’ll be into the New Year, with all its uncertainty.
For as long as I can remember, Christmas has been an exciting time: a time for gathering as family, exchanging gifts and celebrating the birth of Jesus. There was a sameness to our celebrations – what we call ‘tradition’ – which made it all very comforting and reassuring and uplifting.
This year, though, and certainly for the first time in my lifetime, things are going to be different. They have to be different.
The coronavirus has made 2020 a harrowing year for so many people, especially those who lost loved ones during the year and were unable to grieve for them or bury them in the customary way. Those were particularly hard crosses to bear.
The virus is still with us, spreading fear in the community, and leaving anguish and heartache in its wake. So, Christmas 2020 is going to be quite unlike any other Christmas in living memory.
We can look at this two ways. We can decide that this is going to be the worst Christmas ever – after all, what is there to celebrate? Or we can decide to make this one of the most memorable Christmases ever – certainly in our lifetimes.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to recognise and appreciate what really matters in life: being with those we love, looking out for one another; caring for each other; worshipping together. Things that we once took for granted are now, we realise, the most precious things.
So, this Christmas – if we’re able to gather in our small groups – we should be extra thankful for the company of those around us. Thankful for what we have. Thankful for those who have provided the food we’re going to enjoy. Thankful for those working in our shops, or who’ve delivered cards and parcels to our doors. Thankful for those wonderful people in our health services – doctors, nurses, porters, ambulance drivers, carers, ancillary staff; staff in our pharmacy shops. Thankful for our scientists who are pitting their wits against the coronavirus. Thankful for our emergency services workers. Thankful for our teachers. We should be thankful, too, for those who will be giving up their Christmas so that we can enjoy ours. And we should pray God’s discernment for our leaders who have complex problems to deal with and difficult decisions to make.
Last weekend, the headline in one of the Sunday papers proclaimed, ‘Christmas cancelled for millions’. Christmas has not been cancelled. Yes, it will be very different this year, but it hasn’t been cancelled. The name given to Jesus at his birth, Emmanuel, means ’God with us’. In 2020, the significance of that name became obvious to many people. My prayer is that the truth of God’s presence may become evident to each and every one of us.
So, this Christmas and in the New Year, we can be thankful to God. As we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world, we remember that humble stable where he was born. A place of isolation, vulnerability and uncertainty became a place of hope, hope that can become the foundation stone for a better future for each one of us.
I wish you all the peace of Christ this Christmas.
+Andrew Derry and Raphoe