My dear friends,
The year 2016 has been a strange and in many ways troubling year. There had been many good things, not least the dignified and generous centenary commemorations of both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme.
But there has also been – at the level of individual consciousness - a high number of deaths of well-known people, some at a sadly young age, in the course of this year. And of more general consequence, there have been serious and unanticipated political upheavals in both the UK and in the USA, and the severe ramifications of these will certainly be felt throughout the world. The conflicts in the Middle East have continued unabated, we have ever more aware - through the media - of extraordinary callous brutality in this continuing war, a violence which has reached into the heartlands of our own continent. And globally there are now far more people dispossessed of their homes and livelihoods than at any time in recent history.
As we approach the ending of 2016, we are reminded that it will simply not do to imagine that we can remain airily detached from the state of the wider world. I shudder when I hear people say, “Oh, I don’t bother myself about politics..”. This was an attitude that too many people took in the 1930s, another immensely uncertain and unstable time for the world, and none of us should need reminding where and how the 1930s ended.
We should therefore all make ourselves aware of (and knowledgeable about) the wider world around us. Equally, however, we should try to ensure that we do not simply listen to those opinions with which we are certain we will agree. It is very easy (and probably none of us is innocent in this regard) to shut our ears to ideas which we know we will find repellent. We will never understand how things happen as they do, if we do not take the trouble to listen to sounds outside our own favourite echo chamber.
And it also behoves us to have the courage to speak out, rather than remain silent when we know that things are plainly wrong and unjust. Martin Luther King expressed it so very clearly: “our generation will have to repent, not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness, but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light”.
As we move into the season of Christmas and the beginning of a New Year, I would want us all to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ came into a world night of bright casual escapism but of genuine darkness, a dangerous and a threatening time for very many people in the society he entered. And, two thousand years on, he is still within this world as a light in the darkness. For Christian disciples, our calling is to walk with Christ in his light and to seek each day to remain in his company, showing both courage and energy as we speak and act for the cause of his righteousness.
May I wish you all God’s richest blessings in the Christmas season and into 2017.