The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says that the care he saw being given to a baby from an economically deprived family in Bethlehem during his pilgrimage there was a shining reminder of the Christmas message ‚Äì that God‚Äôs revolutionary love comes to us as a gift, in the face of all life's trials and joys.
In his sermon for Christmas Day, Dr Williams told how, while visiting a cr?®che attached to Bethlehem‚Äôs Holy Family Hospital funded by international donations, he cradled an abandoned new-born child in his arms. He recounts asking the hospital's director, Robert Tabash why the standard of care was so good, despite the harsh economic conditions in the town:
‚ÄúDr Tabash said that all of this is important simply because ‚Äòthe poorest deserve the best‚Äô - 'The poorest deserve the best': when you hear that, I wonder if you can take in just how revolutionary it is. They do not deserve what‚Äôs left over when the more prosperous have had their fill, or what can be patched together on a minimal budget as some sort of damage limitation. And they don‚Äôt ‚Äòdeserve‚Äô the best because they‚Äôve worked for it and everyone agrees they‚Äôve earned it. They deserve it simply because their need is what it is and because where human dignity is least obvious it‚Äôs most important to make a fuss about it.‚Äù
Dr Rowan Williams also urged pilgrims to visit the Holy Land in support of all the communities who live there, locked in by Israeli checkpoints, a dire economic situation and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Reflecting on his recent experiences in the region, he says that one of the striking things about the visit was the challenge posed by the lack of hope for a political solution:
‚ÄúOne of the most chilling things on this journey to the Holy Land was the almost total absence in both major communities of any belief that there was a political solution to hand. So step back from that for a moment and ask, ‚ÄòWhat do both the communities in the Holy Land ask from us ‚Äì not just from that convenient abstraction, the 'international community', but from you and me?"
What was needed to create trust and hope, said Dr Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's 77 Million Anglicans, was ordinary people reaching out to the region: ‚ÄúGo and see, go and listen; let them know, Israelis and Palestinians alike, that they will be heard and not forgotten."
He continued: "Both communities in their different ways dread ‚Äìwith good reason ‚Äì a future in which they will be allowed to disappear while the world looks elsewhere. The beginning of some confidence in the possibility of a future is the assurance that there are enough people in the world committed to not looking away and pretending it isn‚Äôt happening."
Explained Dr Williams: "It may not sound like a great deal, but it is open to all of us to do; and without friendship, it isn‚Äôt possible to ask of both communities the hard questions that have to be asked, the questions about the killing of the innocent and the brutal rejection of each other‚Äôs dignity and liberty.‚Äù
Christmas, said the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a reminder that God‚Äôs love overflows into our lives despite that fact that we cannot ever earn it.
‚ÄúThe child I held last Friday had no merits and achievements; he deserved the best in spite of ‚Äì or because of - having nothing but his helplessness... God does not let us have what‚Äôs left over from the grace given to holy and honourable people, he doesn‚Äôt look around for some small bonus that might come from the end-of-year surplus in the budget."
Concluded Dr Williams: "[God] gives the best: himself; his life, his presence, in his eternal Son and Word; he gives Jesus to be born, to die and rise again and to call us into full fellowship with him in the Spirit. He gives us his own passion and urgency to go where human dignity is most threatened and pour out extravagantly the riches of love