This is the rector's letter in the parish magazine for Dec 16/Jan 17.
It seems an understatement to say that we are living in strange times. Most of the world is coming to terms with the surprise of the US election result. Our own unexpected referendum result in June continues to reverberate throughout the political scene in the UK. The paradox is that although people had their say on a specific day in both cases, it is now all out of our hands. We can only watch how things progress, hoping and praying for the best from those entrusted with power and influence.
Sadly, these remarkable events have been accompanied by an increased hostility to the outsider. Some newspapers have run headlines seemingly intended to cultivate hostility to refugees, migrants and those who have simply move to the UK for a better job. (Although this doesn’t seem to apply to people from the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand!) As I write this, the home affairs select committee is about to enquire into the causes of the surge in reported hate crime in the UK, following the Brexit vote. Key evidence will come from the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. It seems a minority with extreme views saw the vote as a reason to express their prejudices in violence and abuse. Many from both sides of the referendum have, of course, condemned their actions.
Whichever way we voted, the Christmas message has something to say to us at this time. First, it reminds us that whoever holds great power in this world, they are not controlling the bigger story. Despite the might of the Roman Empire and all its tyranny and cruelty, Jesus Christ was born into this world. The local despot, Herod, failed to stop him. He went on through his life, and his death and resurrection to change the world. Caesar, Herod and Pontius Pilate are long dead, but Jesus still changes lives today, and will continue to do so, whoever is president or prime minister.
It also reminds us starkly of our Christian responsibility to welcome and care for the homeless, the refugee and all in need. It’s a long-standing tradition in the Old Testament: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Joseph and Mary depended on the hospitality of a stranger to provide a place for Jesus to be born (Luke 2:7). Shortly afterwards, they were refugees in Egypt, fleeing a tyrant who wanted to kill them (Matthew 2:13-23 - the bit after the Christmas reading). And in due course they settled in humble surroundings in Nazareth, away from Joseph’s home town, settling again up north.
We may not all vote the same way, but the message of Christmas calls us all to hold those values. To do so, we must oppose prejudice, show compassion, and have generous hearts for the most vulnerable and needy, whatever their nationality, belief or background.
May we celebrate Christmas with a spirit of hope, joy and peace, so that we take that spirit out into our troubled and broken world.