Thinking Anglicans

Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message

The Archbishop of Canterbury has released a Christmas Message to the Anglican Communion.

The Christmas Message is also available for the first time as a podcast.

One of the strangest yet most moving expressions in the New Testament is a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews (11.16): God ‘is not ashamed to be called their God’. The writer is talking about the history of God’s people. When they have been faithful to God, faithful in keeping on moving onwards in faith rather than settling down in self-satisfaction, when they are true pilgrims, then God is content to be known as their God…

Full text below the fold.

One of the strangest yet most moving expressions in the New Testament is a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews (11.16): God ‘is not ashamed to be called their God’. The writer is talking about the history of God’s people. When they have been faithful to God, faithful in keeping on moving onwards in faith rather than settling down in self-satisfaction, when they are true pilgrims, then God is content to be known as their God. He declares himself to be the God of pilgrims, of people who know that their lives are incomplete and that they are still journeying towards the fullness of God’s promises. Visiting refugee camps in the Middle East, as I did this October, brings home so powerfully what it is to be literally and absolutely homeless, not able to be confident in any resources, inner or outer. People in these terrible circumstances will never be complacent, they will always be looking for a future. They are in the most obvious way those whom God is not ashamed to be with, people whose God he is happy to be. He is at home with the homeless. But it is also an image of God’s relationship with all those who are homeless or wandering in other ways.

What an odd expression, to say that God is not ‘ashamed’! It’s as though we are being reassured that God, in spite of everything, doesn’t mind being seen in our company. Most of us know the experience of being embarrassed by someone we are with – children are embarrassed by parents, parents by children; I have sometimes found myself walking down the road with someone who is talking loudly or behaving oddly, and wishing I weren’t there. But God is not embarrassed by human company when that company is turning away from self-satisfaction and ready to move on. We might think that God would be ‘ashamed’ of human company that was imperfect, confused, even sinful. But God is happy to be the God of confused and sinful people when they recognise their own confusion and face the truth of their need. That’s what the great parables of Jesus in St Luke’s Gospel are so often about, especially the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might be ashamed to share. So easily we decide that we would be ashamed to share the company of the sinful, the doubting or the outcast. But God, it seems, is not ashamed to be seen with such people. If he is ashamed to be called the God of any human group, the text from Hebrews strongly suggests that he is most ‘embarrassed’ by those who think they have arrived at the end of their journey, who think they have already attained perfection (compare St Paul’s angry and scornful words in I Corinthians 4.8 – ‘Already you have become rich!’). And it is clear why God would be ashamed to be the God of such people: they behave and speak as if they didn’t really need God, as if they didn’t really need grace and hope and forgiveness.

God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor – not only those who are materially poor, but those who are without the ‘riches’ of self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material resources and those who are ‘poor in spirit’ because they know their hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him.

May God give us every blessing and joy in the Christmas Season.

+Rowan Cantuar

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badman
badman
13 years ago

Read with the Advent letter to the Primates, I’m afraid this makes me feel sick.

poppy tupper
poppy tupper
13 years ago

rw says in this: I have sometimes found myself walking down the road with someone who is talking loudly or behaving oddly, and wishing I weren’t there.
well, i’m deeply embarrassed by being in a church with him as the figurehead. last december i made decision not to go to church again for the time being. i haven’t been since. this, after nearly forty years of pretty much daily attendance at the eucharist. i don’t miss it, and i feel happier not being compromised by accepting the current homophobia coming from lambeth.

Göran Koch-Swahne
13 years ago

The Advent letter must have exhausted him.

Merseymike
Merseymike
13 years ago

Good for you , Poppy. I don’t go to church any more either! And feel a lot better for it too

Pluralist
13 years ago

God might bless them, but, according to Rowan Williams, his Church doesn’t. I cannot reconcile this dreadful, centralising, authoritarian Church nonsense with either such a message or his recent lectures on faiths and social cohesion. This is just intellectual muddle of an incredible kind, a sort of mental departmentalism that baffles beyond belief. It’s bankrupt, isn’t it: this message is bankrupt in the context of the Advent Letter. It just has the feel of an empty echo: meaningless, pointless and, really, there is such a sense that the game is up. I just get the sense that it is out… Read more »

Fr Mark
Fr Mark
13 years ago

I don’t blame either of you. But I hope you will see churches that are overtly inclusive before long, without the vicar living in fear of being denounced by the Con Evo Thought Police.

choirboyfromhell
choirboyfromhell
13 years ago

Merseymike and poppy tupper:

I’m sorry and saddened for both of you. As much as this mess infuriates, angers, hurts and grieves me, it’s not enough to keep me from singing in the stalls.

I hope and pray that you will re-consider this Christmas Eve, and find someplace to open your heart.

Göran Koch-Swahne
13 years ago

Actually, I think reading the 2 together is very interesting, if a tad depressing:

YES God is ashamed to see this.

L Roberts
L Roberts
13 years ago

last december i made decision not to go to church again for the time being. i haven’t been since. this, after nearly forty years of pretty much daily attendance at the eucharist. i don’t miss it, and i feel happier not being compromised by accepting the current homophobia coming from lambeth. Posted by: poppy tupper on Friday, 14 December 2007 at 2:03pm GMT All power to your elbow, poppy. I am glad you are feeling better for it. Me too ! I have returned ‘my’ orders (as best I may) and will not go to a mass in the C… Read more »

L Roberts
L Roberts
13 years ago

to baddman in solidarity.

nauseating …

Larry
Larry
13 years ago

Wouldn’t it be more intellectually consistent for the ABC to push for Christian missionaries to the refugee camps to help their hopelessness?

Hugh of Lincoln
Hugh of Lincoln
13 years ago

For those wondering whether the Advent Letter would arrive before the Second Coming, to get the Christmas Letter on the same day smacks of over-indulgence.

ABC: “Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be.” If most Lambeth delegates are ashamed to be seen in the company of one of their gay brethren, then where is God?

Göran Koch-Swahne
13 years ago

Given the ABC’s role in the Jeffrey John affair, it is not at all clear (rather hardly permissible) to interpret his Christmas letter as saying this.

Pluralist
13 years ago

The Advent Letter itself makes a mockery of the Christmas message. The Advent Letter is all about exclusion and religious bureaucracy, who you do not want to be seen with.

But yes, there are all the other events too that add up to the same.

adrian hailstone
adrian hailstone
13 years ago

As a layman I have read all the comments with interest but at the end of the day conclude that RW is as he has always been an intellectual and this year’s message is as it was in previous years only intended for an elite minority.

Mark Watson
Mark Watson
12 years ago

I have nothing but respect for the Archbishop. He has a brilliant intellect, a deep spirituality, and perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

Withdrawing from the church in smug self-righteousness either by “conservatives” or “progressives” is not helpful. I, too, long for the day when all people, regardless of sexuality, are welcome. In the meantime, we are called to showering lavish grace and generosity as displayed in crib and cross.

Steven McAllister
Steven McAllister
11 years ago

I agree with you Mark, the Archbishop has a brilliant intellect and was the decisive factor in my own decision to begin regular worship in church and which lead to me to understand the inner feeling, indeed longing to know God and Jesus that i have. I have not lived a life God would approve of and i see my past every day, i sit here on a gas rig in the north sea on Christmas day and see more tolerance from a bunch of tough guys than i see from some of the comments, let us disover ourselves first.… Read more »

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