by Bishop John Sherrington
#Red Wednesday, marked on the last Wednesday of November, raised awareness of the threats to religious freedom in many parts of the world. The red floodlighting of many buildings, including Marble Arch, Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Cathedral witnessed powerfully to the suffering, persecution and death of Christians in many countries. In London many people joined a candle lit procession which shed light into a darkened and dangerous world. A video-link with suffering Christians in Aleppo brought the message of Antoine to the piazza in Victoria. Antoine had been held imprisoned by Daesh for 62 days before making a miraculous escape. Like St Peter in prison, it was as though the chains fell from his legs and he walked out into freedom, holding his head high, because his liberation was close at hand.
Many Christians will come to pray at Midnight Mass carrying fear in their hearts for their faith, their families and the year ahead. They will celebrate with joy the light of the Christ Child breaking into the darkness of that first Christmas night. Their hope will be renewed by his birth in Bethlehem and will give them confidence and joy. They will also know that the vestments on 26th December will be red and the martyrdom of St Stephen will be celebrated.
Giovanni Bellini’s painting the Madonna of the Meadow to be found in the National Gallery is disturbing as it reveals the shadows of death breaking into the joy of Christmas. The sleeping Christ Child in the arms of his loving mother appears to be dead. The right hand of the sleeping Child across his chest recalls the pose traditionally adopted for burial and his right leg seems lifeless and stiff. This death anticipates the Resurrection.
The Christ Child born in Bethlehem and laid in a manager is the light of the world. His light illuminates our lives and gives us hope. As we renew our hope and celebrate our joy this Christmas, we pray for our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith in many parts of the world.