Are we nearly there yet? Friends, there are just two days to go! Two more Advent Calendar doors to open; two more sleeps until Christmas Day! Advent is always associated as a time of getting ready– but I wonder how prepared we really are for what this Christmas and beyond it will bring?
Last year, many City of York residents were forced to leave their homes as the City suffered its worst flooding in a generation and Tadcaster lost its 300 year-old main bridge through the town.
In 2015, the number of people forced to leave their homes through conflict and persecution passed a staggering record 60 million for the first time. Earlier this month, Amnesty’s report ‘Struggling to Survive: Refugees from Syria in Turkey’ found the failure of the international community to deal with the growing number of refugees in Turkey alone – 1.6 million – has led to a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Being able to support others, whether they are from Aleppo or Acomb, is a wonderful privilege but it does not feel like this in the middle of the crisis, far from it. It is all too easy, under pressure, to put up the barriers and think only of ourselves, our own stresses and strains, and to forget the stranger at the gates.
In the Christmas story, on the night that Jesus was born, we are told that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room at the inn. In reading the account as written in Luke’s Gospel, though he is not specifically mentioned, I have a lot of time for the innkeeper. He must have been under tremendous pressure. Bethlehem was heaving with people, and it wasn’t his fault that there were no rooms left. If he did offer space in the Inn’s back yard this was generous and compassionate within the bounds of what was possible.
On Boxing Day last year, here in York, a remarkable community response occurred that reminded us all of the message: ‘Let us never weary of doing something good’. 600 military personnel responded, 125 mountain rescue members rallied, York Rescue Boat teams and countless volunteers were there to rescue flood victims or to fill and distribute 10,000 sandbags around the flooded areas across the City.
At Christmas, we have a fantastic opportunity to gather together with loved ones – friends, families, our near neighbours and our global ones – and make new beginnings. The birth of Jesus reminds us of the most fantastic new beginning, one that transformed and reshaped the world we live in.
May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas.
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable John Sentamu
Archbishop of York and Primate of England