From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Christmas Message from Archbishop of Canterbury

Date Thu, 6 Dec 2001 15:32:23 -0500 (EST)


Christmas Message from Archbishop of Canterbury

     My dear friends

     In days to come we shall all be asked: 'What were you doing when the twin 
towers of the World Trade Centre crashed to the ground?' In my case I was sitting 
in my study talking to John Peterson, Secretary General of the Communion, when 
Eileen walked in and said with a stunned air: 'A plane has just crashed into the 
World Trade Centre!'

     Even now it is very difficult to get one's mind around the events of that 
day. What sort of face was it we saw that day? Perhaps there were several, 
including the hideous face of terrorism using Islam to try to cower a great 
nation.. We thank God that America was not cowed by such evil. Another face we 
saw was altogether gentler and heroic, the face of compassion rescuing many from 
a tragic end. We saw sorrow and grief, but also a determination that evil should 
not triumph.

     As I write the allied forces are seeking to prise Osama Bin Laden from his 
hiding place in Afghanistan. While we may have varying views about the means it 
is clear that those guilty must be held to account. The world is not safe until 
such perpetrators are brought to justice. 

     One simply cannot imagine the mentality of men who will take over planes and 
use them as guided missiles to destroy. But neither can I understand a theology 
which assumes that such evil deeds grant one access to paradise.  It is vital 
that Muslims leaders continue to address this distortion of Islamic theology as a 
matter of urgency. 

     But there is another issue that seems to be to be lost in the present 
debate. Put simply it is this: Our increasingly secular, consumer driven 
societies often find it hard to understand people who are quite prepared to die 
for their beliefs. We are increasingly cocooned in a culture of comfort-where all 
danger and risk are kept at arms length. 

     Most Christians of course will have some insight of the notion of the 
sacrificial life although nothing in our faith leads us to kill others for 
religious ends. Our faith calls us to live and die for Christ himself whose ways 
are justice and peace. And isn't there a challenge here for us all? As I write 
this letter I have just heard that eighteen fellow Anglicans of the Church of 
Pakistan were murdered by extremists whilst at worship! Our hearts go out to 
their families as we commend those who have died and their families to the loving 
arms of Almighty God. It brings home to us all the cost for so many fellow 
Christians in following Christ today. For those of us living in more secure lands 
we are challenged to work out for ourselves the cost of following our Lord.

     Early last century, Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar who had been preaching 
the University sermon at Cambridge University challenging students to give up 
their lives to become missionaries in Africa was greeted by a student who said: 
'I couldn't possibly live in Africa!' Weston thundered: 'I did not ask you to 
live there - I asked you to be prepared to die there!' And dying for Christ was 
often the reality of those missionaries of that period. Do we not need to 
consider where the element of sacrifice has gone in modern Christianity? If our 
discipleship does not take the form of direct suffering for Christ, perhaps we 
have to work out for ourselves those forms of obedience that are sacrificial and 
costly that might lead to the benefit of the Church and humanity. 

     To return to the present situation. While nothing justifies the awful events 
of Sept 11th, the Western world must wake up to the fact that terrorism feeds on 
such realities as the gross and obscene inequalities between West and East; the 
deep despair at the heart of refugees in so many parts of the world, including 
Palestine; the alarming ignorance and lack of opportunities for those millions of 
children who have no future to look forward to. I thank God for our Communion 
which is present in so many parts of the world where issues of life and death are 
enacted daily.

     Finally, this leads me to children and their future. What kind of world are 
we preparing for them? How may the joy, peace and love that Christmas brings 
become a cradle for their  growth as  leaders of reconciliation and bearers of 
hope  ?

     I thank God for those young faces that have greeted Eileen and me in every 
part of our Anglican Communion family. This year, we have been grateful for their 
enthusiasm and excitement we found in Southern Ohio;  for their  vitality we 
encountered in Nigeria; for their courage we experienced in Palestine; and the 
tenacity of their faith in Bahrain and Qatar.  My prayer is that we shall make 
children a priority in our mission, worship and life.

     O Holy child of Bethlehem

     Descend on us we pray

     Cast out our sin and enter in

     Be born in us today.

     We hear the Christmas angels

     That great glad tidings tell

     O Come to us Abide with us

     Our Lord Emmanuel.

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