‘Well, Archbishop,’ people say, ‘we are getting near to your busy time, aren’t we!’
Well, as Christmas approaches, I’d be a rich man if I had a fiver for every time someone said that to me. It’s not as if we clergy are like Santa, with our feet up for the rest of the year! But I know they mean well.
Even Pope Francis is joining in the fun. In a recent teaching document about preaching he says that both people and priest can suffer from sermons: the people from having to listen to them and the priest from having to prepare them! So he encourages us to prepare well what we have to say. And, he says, don’t look as if you have just come from a funeral!
Rather, the first thing we have to get across is the joy of our faith. There's a joy in the air at Christmas, the joy of all the preparation and then of seeing the children opening their presents. But there is also a deeper joy, a joy that isn’t so fleeting, that deepens with time. It's the joy of knowing that the child born in the stable is the real presence of God in our midst, the joy of knowing the single most important thing for our existence: that we are loved by God!
This knowledge is of the heart as well as of the head. And it's often in our hearts before our heads. With it comes joy, in quiet, unexpected ways, difficult to put into words.
One great preacher explained the joy of faith like this:
‘For us Christ is everything. If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever; he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way; if you are in darkness, he is the light.”
That’s St Ambrose of Milan from about the year 375. His words still ring true for us today and I guess he smiled as he said them!
This reflection was given on 10 December when the Archbishop of Westminster spoke on ‘Pause for Thought’, hosted by Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2.