I have just looked back to my Advent letter of last year. Dated 1 December 2021, it makes reference to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 identified at the beginning of that week, and proceeds to give guidance on managing our worshipping life alongside the new strain of the virus.
How pressing that seemed at the time! It remains vitally important, of course, but as ‘the crisis of the moment’ it belongs to last year, superseded by this year’s crisis of the Cost of Living, exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even greater than that, the crisis of our time is the environment, a changing climate, and the threat to the natural world. When, we might ask, will we be blessed to live not in a time of crisis?
The answer to that is probably ‘never’: not in this world, for sure. Humankind has always lived in a time of crisis: some crises greater than others, certainly. A world whose population now numbers eight billion, unevenly distributed and with alarming discrepancies of wealth and poverty, will always face constant challenges. Some we can resolve readily, others are more difficult, and it is always the latest challenge that is the most acute. The need of yesterday recedes in the face of the need of today.
For all that this is concerning, it also offers hope, for it is a reminder that these challenges and obstacles can be overcome. The resilience of the human resolve and the human will is massive. That is even more so when it is accompanied by the spiritual gifts of faith, hope and love. The task of the Christian is to remind people of this, to be a signpost to the gifts of grace in God. This is what the Prophets of the Old Testament were called to do, the Prophets from Isaiah to John the Baptist whom we recall during Advent. It was also the task of the angels and the shepherds in the events of Christmas: to show the way, to offer signs of hope and joy, and to point to God. That is your task and mine as this year comes to its conclusion, marked with the joy of Christmas: to remind people of God, to remind our world of Christ, to remind our society of the promises and gifts of grace. At Diocesan Synod last night, I spoke of ‘care and compassion in the name of Jesus’, which we can offer in so many ways, not least in providing a Warm Space in our buildings, or in welcoming those who look to us at Christmas in their search for hope and meaning. Within all of this, we recall too the words that appear more than any other in scripture, and notably in the narratives of Christmas and Easter: ‘Do not be afraid’, or ‘fear not’. ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ (Isaiah 43: 1).
Please accept from me, as Bishop of this Diocese, warmest, warmest thanks for your ministry of this year, and deep gratitude for our fellowship and shared life in the Gospel of Christ.
With best wishes for a joyful sacred season of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and with prayers for us all,
30 November: Advent 2022