The city’s Anglican and Catholic religious leaders give their Christmas messages for Sheffield Telegraph readers:
The Rt Rev Peter Burrows, acting Bishop of Sheffield
The world can feel a frightening and loveless place for many reasons. Love is a basic need and a powerful emotion. But some use the concept of love to control and coerce others, as
we witness in too many cases of control by the strong and powerful over the weak and vulnerable. We see it in the control and abuse of political power, we see it in individual relationships.
Paloma Faith, in one of her songs, sang ‘Only love can hurt like this’. It indicates the depth and passion by which love is felt and experienced. But, at its very best, love binds you with another person in a deeply committed and giving relationship.
At Christmas we’re invited into the most powerful relationship and the greatest love story ever told. God loves us so much that he sent his son into the world - it’s the greatest affirmation of our worth and value and shows that God is deeply committed to us. When we experience the love of God, it may not change our circumstances but we’ll know in our hearts that we’re loved. There is no greater gift than this.
This Christmas, as you share in the love and peace of the incarnate Jesus Christ, as you rejoice in the love of family and friends, think of those for whom Christmas will be a dark and frightening place, those who are lost, least and last, those who feel loveless. Show that the love of Christ can change and transform their lives.
The Rt Rev Ralph Heskett, Catholic Bishop of Hallam
There is a story told of a family who decided one year to celebrate an alternative Christmas. They didn’t put up a tree, there were no lights to brighten up the home, no carols sung and no exchange of gifts. They met for a simple, quiet meal on Christmas Day. When asked by friends how their alternative Christmas went, one of the family members replied that it was ‘pleasant’ while another member, perhaps speaking more honestly, said that it was ‘an existential abyss’.
We sometimes complain that Christmas celebrations start too early and are driven by the retailers who need a ‘good Christmas’ to improve their profit margin. We complain sometimes, too, that there is not enough religious content and too many excesses in our celebration of Christmas. And yet, we have a God-given need to celebrate. It is in our genes!
There is a deep calling within us that tells us we are made for feasting, for music, for festival. Christmas, of course, is such a festival. It is only right that we should surround the anniversary of Jesus’ birth with as much joy and warmth, music and laughter and gift giving that we can gather. Indeed, the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, even in the midst of all its excesses, can be a genuine lesson in faith and hope.
It would be easy to take the high moral ground when we look around and see all that takes place in the name of Christmas and say: “I am having no part of it. Christmas is cancelled this year.”
But, actually, it is those who, despite all they see around them, still put up the tree and lights, who join heartily in the carols, exchange gifts with loved ones and share a table with family and friends who witness to their faith in ‘the Word of God made flesh and living among us’, who recognise and value our God-given gift to celebrate and look to the future with hope.