Bishop of Doncaster

Bishop of Doncaster speaks about the need to help those less fortunate in our communities at Christmas

Preached Christmas Day 2016
My musical taste hasn’t really progressed much beyond the Beatles and in particular John Lennon, who wrote these words “And so this is Christmas and what have you done, another year over and a new one just begun”. As we enjoy our Christmas celebrations which I hope you are doing, this isn’t a bad question to ask. What have you done for those for whom Christmas won’t be a happy or joyous occasion, those not surrounded by the love of family and friends, those who don’t have the light of Christ shining in their lives.
At Christmas we celebrate the light of the world – Jesus. But for 65 million people world-wide who are fleeing from conflict and crisis, a joyful home is a distant memory. They live lives of darkness and fear.
For me this is highlighted every year when I pass the homeless. In the midst of busy streets with people preparing for Christmas, buying lots of presents and wonderful food to share with family and friends - and I’m no different - I’m struck by how easy it is for us to rush by without noticing they are there, without giving them a second glance. Steve Wilcockson, the Archdeacon of Doncaster, and I regularly meet over coffee at 7.00am in the morning on our way to the Bishops staff meeting. It’s one way of avoiding the horrendous Sheffield traffic. When we arrive there is often a man sitting outside huddled under papers and cardboard in all sorts of weather conditions. And so we buy him a coffee and something to eat. It isn’t a huge gesture but hopefully it helps keep him warm and fed and the social interaction we hope is good for him personally. For him to know that someone cares.
A few months ago I was enjoying, as is often the case, a cup of tea and some time in fellowship at the back of church after a service. There I was enjoying myself, chatting away, minding my own business when a woman appeared at my side “I’ve got a bone to pick with you” she said. “With me” I said, acting all innocent and naïve as you do. “Yes you she said”. There was nothing else for it, there was no escape, I had to face the music.
Expecting an ear bashing the conversation went something like this –“Ever since you wrote that blog on homelessness, reminding us that most of us try to sidle past the homeless in our towns and cities, in the hope they won’t ask us for something, challenging us to think what we’d feel like if it was us, or one of our family or friends, and if that wasn’t enough, further challenging us to do something about it in easy ways such as buying them a coffee from Costa, or other coffee outlets that are available. It’s cost me a fortune. You pricked my conscience so much”, she said, “that I can’t now walk past a homeless person without engaging with them, even if it’s only a kindly word, buying the big issue, or buying them a coffee”. Job done I thought.
An invisible city of vulnerable and excluded people exists in Britain every day. Crisis has estimated that there are around 400,000 hidden homeless people and probably more than that trapped in circumstances that leave them on the fringes of society, living on the streets, in hostels, squats and bed and breakfast accommodation or with friends and family. For many the situation is far from temporary and the problems they face aren’t just about being without a roof. Many struggle with problems of unemployment, family breakdown, mental ill health and substance abuse. With the right support they could overcome these, but all too often they’re left to cope alone.
When we look at what’s happening across the world and look back over the past twelve months all of us can name major issues and crisis that still impact on the most vulnerable and which continue to shock and outrage us. Faced with these global problems we can feel overwhelmed, that it’s all too much, there’s nothing we can do so we just give in. But overcome we mustn’t be. As we think of the coming of the Prince of Peace, we pray not only for the peace of the world and individuals, the peace that passes all understanding, but we pray that in that peace we find the strength that we’re given in Jesus Christ and the call to action in our world as part of our Christian witness and testimony.
As Christians we must ask ourselves the question what have we done. We’re called to action to help and support the most vulnerable and maybe we start on the streets and towns and cities and villages where we live and where we’re faced with people with problems and issues every day if we’re prepared to take notice of them. And we do so because God showed that he loved us so much that he sent his Son into the world. Jesus didn’t grow up in palaces of privilege; he grew up as an obscure child in an ordinary village in a small dusty province, amongst the poor, the needy, the disposed, the lonely, and the homeless. It could have been a picture like any street in any of our towns and cities.
Because of Jesus birth we can say God is here present in his splendour and majesty, but also in the midst of the mess and problems of people’s lives.
The Shepherds were told by the angels “To you is born this day in the city of David a saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord”, wrapped in bands of cloths and lying in a manger, not in splendour. He made his home amongst us, amongst our imperfections. It’s there we see his glory full of grace and truth. Jesus is God in human form and identifies with our despair, our hopelessness, our pains, our hurts, the rejections, and horror of people’s lives. He came into the world knowing that it was going to cost him dearly. He bore in himself the marks of human sin so that we might be saved. Only God can save because only God is powerful, forgiving, merciful and gracious. In Jesus we know that hopelessness and despair don’t have the last word because of his glorious resurrection. And through the promise of salvation, lives are transformed for all who turn to him. That’s what we’re witnessing to today.
But our call to action isn’t just to the most vulnerable It’s to all. The problem is that for many Jesus is invisible. Telling the good news of Jesus Christ is part of our mission and we discovered during the Crossroads Mission that there are many people open to the message of Jesus Christ if only we go to where they are, listen to them, with a warm and open invitation to our churches to meet Christ through our witness, in our fellowship and our worship. And what better time than Christmas to do exactly that?
This Christmas many of us will receive more gifts than we really need or possibly want and with which we could almost certainly live without. There are many who won’t share the greatest gift of all, namely Jesus Christ. But all can, if through our witness they come to know Jesus the one who shows us God, the one who is touchable, approachable and reachable. This is after all the greatest love story ever told.
We all matter to God and everyone, whatever their needs and circumstances should matter to us. Christmas isn’t just a nice reminder of the nativity, it’s a threefold call - a call to deepen the sense of God in our lives, It’s a call to practical action in support of those who’ve fallen off the prominent and urgent list of needs and it’s a call to make Christ known to others, to let God into their hearts, to find a spiritual home in him. Jesus told us that if we wanted to do something for him we should feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe others, look after the sick and those in prison. He wants to be in the lives of the homeless, he wants to be in the homes of the poor, lonely, distressed. He wants to be amongst those who are spiritually poor and whose lives are anything but perfect and that include us.
God’s agenda is people; it’s lifting up the fallen, binding the broken hearted, healing the wounded, forgiving the flawed. And God will bless us if in the rough and tumble of life we search out the needs of others, search out the lost, the weary heart and comfort it, the hopeless mind and fill it with imagination, the lonely life and fill it with love, wandering soul and bring it home. Home is where somebody loves you and where Jesus Christ has come to dwell.
So what have we done? Or what should we be doing? We should show the light of Christ and lead people from their darkness to a brighter future in the incarnate Son of God.

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