With Christmas just days away, Bishop Philip has shared his Christmas message for the blessing of hope this Christmas.

You can watch the video here.

The blessing of hope this Christmas

What words would you use to describe how you’ve felt during 2020?

Frightened? Anxious? Poorly? Hard up? I expect these words feature for many of you, and I know only too well that there will be other words that aren’t quite suitable for a bishop to use in his Christmas message. But the truth is that 2020 has been like no year in living memory.

As I come to write this message, there is a great deal of uncertainty. We can still only plan tentatively for Christmas in the knowledge that things may yet change. People’s patience and resilience have been stretched to breaking point this year, and sadly but understandably, some of us do feel broken.

This year, we won’t be able to gather for our usual carol services. There won’t be communion wine, midnight mass in many places will be restricted to people with tickets, assuming it can take place … who could have imagined that, this time last year?

People are going to be very restricted in how they can get together … and as for the office party? Well, I suppose we’ve learned to do everything else over Zoom and Teams. But just think of all those local hospitality and service businesses who will be losing out, yet again.

My heart breaks when I think of the many ways in which so many people have suffered in this diocese – those who have lost their jobs, those whose businesses have suffered or gone under; those who have suffered mental health problems as a by-product of all the changes and the enduring sense of anxiety; those poor people in hospitals and care homes who have not been able to see their loved ones for so long: it’s coming up to a year since I’ve seen my own father in the flesh. And of course, we think of those who have suffered directly from Covid-19: people who have been very ill and so frightened, those who are suffering the effects of ‘long Covid’, and, above all, those who have lost family members and friends to the illness.

However, there are now at least very clear signs of hope. A herculean task lies before us, but we now know that vaccines can be effective. We have every reason to think that life can return to what we regard as being largely normal. Quite which bits of ‘normal’ we actually want back remains to be seen, but while we’re not there yet, I suspect many of us can relax slightly and sleep better at night in the knowledge that science is coming up with a solution for us all.

It does feel symbolic to me, as we approach Christmas, that we can begin to feel hope.

The Gospels tell us of course that Jesus is the Son of God, a gift to all Mankind. God gave us his son, and we celebrate that with tremendous joy. But Jesus saw and experienced suffering throughout his life. The New Testament is full of stories about how Jesus helped people to overcome their suffering: he cured the sick, he fed the hungry, and he spoke truth to power, challenging those who were in charge and people who abused their fellow men and women, and Jesus suffered as a result. And, of course, his life on Earth was cut short in an agonising and cruel fashion.

But then came his resurrection, and with that the realisation that God offers each and every one of us the gift of eternal life.

After darkness there comes light.

So this Christmas, I hope you will join with me in turning towards the light that next year promises.  How do we want that to be?  There are many aspects of life that we want back, of course, the fellowship and the company, the hugs, the parties, the worship, the singing, and of course the ability to hold someone and tell them we love them. We all need love in our lives: the love of our families and our friends, of course, and the love of God too: a love which is unconditional and there for us if we just open our hearts.

But does everybody want to go back to commuting five days a week for 48 weeks a year? Why would they!

And there are many other things that we don’t want to go back to doing without – neighbours helping each other: people going the extra mile to look out for those who are less fortunate or less able.

We have learned this year that human life is fragile. We have learned that our planet, too, is fragile.

As we feel the blessing of hope this Christmas, let us look forward to better times, to a better life, and to loving our neighbours, our planet, and ourselves in the way that Jesus showed us, strengthened by the power of his love for us.

So while this year will be very different, I wish each and every one of you a joyful, healthy, and, above all, a hopeful Christmas.