Richard Harries writes in the Observer that We should not fear religion
Religion is now a major player on the world stage in a way that was scarcely conceivable 30 years ago. In both the Islamic world and the Bush White House religion is impinging on public policy. In the 1960s sociologists believed that the world was in the grip of an irreversible process of secularisation – though they could not account for the United States, at once the most modern and one of the most religious countries in the world.
Now sociologists are drawn to the opposite conclusion: the more modern the world gets the more religious it becomes. It has been well said that whereas the major conflicts of the twentieth century were ideological, those of the twenty-first century will be to do with identity in which religion is a key element. Globalisation draws people out of their village communities, where they had an assured place and identity, into sprawling urban areas making goods for the Western market. There, gravitating to the mosque or church, they find their identity in relation to their religion…
Today Saturday, David Hope writes in the Guardian about Christmas celebrated in styles
One of the first things I did, having been enthroned in early December as Archbishop of York in York Minster, was to attend the nativity play in the primary school of my home village, Bishopthorpe. The contrast could not have been greater…
…In contrast to the grandeur of the Minster I have usually sought to visit a parish church in the diocese for midnight mass – sometimes a church without a vicar or indeed a church that would not in the normal course of events expect the Archbishop.
Next year it will be a parish church – St Margaret’s Ilkley and that will be very different again. But then, while it has been an enormous privilege to have been able to experience the sheer beauty and wonder of Christmas celebrated in the way I have described, the place and manner of the celebration of Christ’s birth is in the end of little relevance.
For the one single fact which underlies and which is fundamental to any Christian celebration, however grand or humble the setting, is the stupendous fact of God coming to us and among us in Jesus Christ.
For in the stable we witness what the poet Christopher Smart described as the “magnitude of meekness”, the hospitality of the God who welcomes any and all who seek – the God who is constantly inviting us to work with him in His loving purposes for the establishing of His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven – a kingdom of righteousness, justice and peace for the peoples of the entire world.
In The Times Geoffrey Rowell writes about The meaning at the very heart of Christmas. An extract:
For Christians every Sunday is a feast of the Resurrection, and every Christian festival is always an Easter festival — and that includes Christmas. The Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, the village girl of Nazareth, that she is to become the bearer of the Son of God, is a moment of new creation. So too is the birth at Bethlehem, and that is all fulfilled in the new life which bursts from the grave at Easter, a life in which through his life-giving Spirit we share. So the Christmas collect speaks both of the birth at Bethlehem, and of our new birth — of our being made God’s children by adoption and grace by the same life-giving Spirit which overshadowed the Blessed Virgin at the Incarnation. Christ went, as Bishop Lancelot Andrewes liked to say, “to the very ground-sill of our nature”. The God who comes among us is a God who empties Himself, pours himself out in love, comes down to the lowest part of our need, framed, formed, and fashioned as an unborn child, and then weak, helpless and dependent in the muck and mire of the manger, whose pricking straw is seen by St Bernard as foreshadowing the piercing nails of the Cross.
Christmas celebrates and challenges. At its heart is the overwhelming mystery of a God who stoops to us in the most amazing humility, revealing and disclosing Himself in the most human language, that of a human life. St John speaks of “the Word made flesh”, the Logos, or Divine Reason by which all things were ordered being made in our likeness. In that we behold the glory of God, and see and know what God is like, what is the source and origin of all that is, and the end and goal of our human life. That love “so amazing, so divine” is the truth we celebrate at Christmas.