21 December 2006

Christmas message from the President of the Methodist Conference (1)

Revd Graham Carter, President of The Methodist Conference, says in his Christmas message that efforts to replace Christmas with non-religious holiday events are either seeking 'to enforce a kind of sameness or are afraid of religion.' Graham, says that fears about Christmas offending people of other faiths are misplaced: 'genuinely religious people of all faiths are happy about celebrating Christmas, seeing it not as divisive but enriching the field of faith.'

The full text of Graham's message follows:

'Christmas is a down to earth celebration. We celebrate a God who is not far off but one who is deeply involved in human life. Christmas is not about fairy tales and far-fetched beliefs. It is about the realities of human living and the acknowledgement that God is with us, even in the dark and dingy places.

'There are those who would hide the celebration of Christmas. Afraid of imagined dispute and conflict they want to have everyone celebrate 'Winterval' or 'Winterfest'. These are not people who have a genuine interest in equality. They are people who either want to enforce a kind of sameness or are afraid of religion. Genuinely religious people of all faiths are happy about celebrating Christmas, seeing it not as divisive but enriching the field of faith. As Christians we would not want to stop Jews celebrating Hanukkah, Muslims celebrating Eid or Hindus celebrating Diwali. Nor do people of other religions want to stop the celebration of Christmas.

'Over the centuries, Christianity has shown a remarkable ability to use existing festivals and imbue them with deeper meaning. The Church took over a Roman celebration to celebrate the birth of Christ in mid-winter, and in Britain we still use the pagan name for Easter. Now that some people want to go back and de-Christianise Christmas, to secularise it or re-institute pagan ceremonies, we ought to be more particular about making sure ours is a truly Christian celebration. We should resist attempts to trivialise an understanding that brings a deeper meaning than simply the rising of the sun in the winter sky once more.

'The Christmas message reminds us that Christianity is a world-affirming religion, not world-denying. In our Christmas story, God becomes human in a very ordinary way. The stories of Mary, the shepherds and the wise men may sound exceptional, but in their telling they emphasise how ordinary the event was. Mary's song, the Magnificat, reminds us that she was from a lowly family; there wasn't even a proper bed for Jesus when he was born; shepherding was among the lowest of occupations, yet the shepherds were the first to be given the news of the birth; the wise men thought Jesus would have been born in a palace, but even with all their wisdom, they got it wrong.

'The good news of Christmas is that the most ordinary of people are counted special in God's eyes and they have a special purpose. Well-being and good life do not depend on status or wealth or possessions. This means all of human life is valuable and the charitable acts so popular at Christmas are not just out of the kindness of people's hearts, but express the reality of how things are supposed to be. 'Winterval' and 'Winterfest' give rise to selfish indulgence. Christmas celebrates the good life for all.'

This message is also available as an audio file. Visit www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.webradio

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