Bishop Nicholas' Christmas broadcast

by Jonathan Ball last modified 25 Dec, 2011 04:52 PM

The Bishop of Salisbury's Christmas message broadcast on BBC Wiltshire Sound on Christmas morning

Bishop Nicholas' Christmas broadcast

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam

To hear the message, click here.

A very Happy Christmas to you.

On a very cold evening last week,  a crowd of people from the local schools, villages and churches gathered by the side of the A4 at Cherhill. We had come for the blessing of a life-size nativity in a garden shed just past the wonderfully named ‘Divine Cafe’; a sort of stable at the back of an hospitable inn.  There, a sheep and a camel join shepherds and wise men coming to see Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. 

You can go and see it at Cherhill this week, or all over Wiltshire children have been doing nativity plays and in homes, churches and sometimes outside in our towns and villages you will find cribs telling the Christmas story. It is a tradition started by St Francis 900 years ago.  St Francis said, “I want to do something that will recall the memory of the little child born in Bethlehem and set before  us in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how with an ox and ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed. “

Standing by the road we got the inconvenience alright. It was freezing. But for Francis the Christmas crib was a way of telling the story of the birth of Jesus so that simplicity was honoured, poverty was exalted, humility was commended and we went to Bethlehem.  It’s a different spin to the glitter and tinsel of the commercial Xmas, altogether deeper, and in dark times much more satisfying because it points to how God really meets us in a baby who shows us that love, light, life and peace are what matter and in the end always win.

For me it has been quite a year, moving to Salisbury from London and becoming a bishop after over 30 years as a parish priest. It’s  given me new experiences as I have begun to know the people and places of what is a pretty big diocese.

The roots of Christianity in Wiltshire and Dorset are very deep. The earliest known image of Christ anywhere in the world is from the floor of a Roman villa in Dorset now in the British Museum.  The ancient churches of Wiltshire tell of the deep history of Christianity in our county. At Christmas many of us will go to church to worship God come among us, like the shepherds and wise men who went to the manger. This is our story and our churches are often at the centre of our communities with faithful people who day by day and week by week throughout the year commit themselves to pray and serve in ways that keep the churches for all of us.

As the new  bishop of Salisbury I have been invited to places where I have met some really good people caring for those in greatest need in our communities. Schools where young people and their teachers are really ‘switched on’ to learning and discovery and with idealism that hopes to change the world. I’ve been to the new Alabare hostel in Salisbury, caring for our homeless people, and the Trussell Trust helping to feed the hungry; as well as people organising youth clubs, sports teams and fun runs, caring for family, for elderly and sick neighbours, and campaigning for safe road crossings. I’ve met street pastors who look after people when a Saturday night out has gone wrong.  When the economy and politics are gloomy and we feel dispirited about the world, it’s worth remembering these ordinary people doing thousands of  acts of kindness, the sorts of things that make community. Like the baby in Bethlehem, ”love in small particulars” are the hope of the world.

People often say that, “Charity begins at home” and of course it does, but it doesn’t stop at home. One of the things I have been most pleased about is discovering the very strong relationship between the Church in the Diocese of Salisbury and the Church in the Sudan.  In November, a month after becoming Bishop of Salisbury, I was in Juba, the capital of the South Sudan, the newest nation on earth and one of the poorest.  In Juba, people kept telling me to remember them to the churches of Melksham, Pewsey, Devizes, Warminster, Salisbury, the Chalke Valley, Alderbury and so on. The amazing depth of the Salisbury-Sudan Link helps us discover something about what it is to be good neighbours. Ours is a world where 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day and know first-hand the inconveniences for a new baby having no room and a bed of straw. In our link with the Church in North and South Sudan we know the painful realities of praying for peace on earth when there is so much conflict and violence. The families of the military deployed on peace keeping missions also  know this first hand. Ours is a small and fragile world that needs us to take  great care.

So, Christmas is for real and I hope you will have a happy one, because in the birth of the baby there is joy for all the world. Celebrate it in church, at home and with your family and neighbours and when it comes to making new year’s resolutions see if you can add to all those acts of kindness by which love lasts forever.  Have a very Happy Christmas.

+Nicholas Sarum

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