We live in a time of tribulation for so many of our world's inhabitants who face persecution and suffering. What has broken my own heart this year has been the plight of the Rohingya people from my beloved Burma. But killing, war, destruction and extreme impoverishment continue in so many other places too, driving many to search for peace, security and basic human dignity here in Europe. We must not forget that the UN still considers Syria to be the locus of the world's greatest humanitarian crisis at present.
And now, in the land of the birth of Our Saviour, new tensions increase around the place of Jerusalem, the Holy City for Jews, Muslims and Christians, under a new threat of disturbance to the longstanding status quo consensus which is in place, pending the negotiation of a lasting and inclusive peace for all its peoples.
But Christians believe that the birth of God's Son heralds a new way of living, a new love for all people, a solidarity with the meek and the poor, and a promise of joy and peace. This is summed up in the words of the great hymn writer and teacher of the faith, fittingly, from the heart of the Middle East, St Ephrem of Syria (+373).
This is the day on which the Saviour of the earth, the Light of the world, shone forth. On this day the Saviour of Israel came down from the pinnacle of heaven to set free all those whom the ancient enemy held captive by reason of Adam’s fault; he came down so that blind souls might have light and deaf souls might hear. The mountains and hills leap for joy, the very foundations of the world break into song, thrilled by the great mystery of his incarnation and all the good it has brought.
For our part, let us humbly entreat our Redeemer to show us his love and mercy. May our souls, begrimed by sin, be cleansed by heartfelt contrition, so that his light may shine gloriously in and about us, and the bliss of salvation be ours to enjoy for ever.