The lands of the Bible, places we know from the stories of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, and the soil of the Middle East where our Lord Jesus Christ was born and lived and where Christianity first took root, are still ravaged by war, violence and terror. It is hard to imagine what our sisters and brothers in Syria and Iraq, two countries which border on our Diocese in Europe, have witnessed this past year, and most recently the attack on the Coptic Church in Cairo underlines the fragility of life for minority communities across the region. Terrorism has of course also touched our own continent, most recently in Berlin.
Nevertheless the celebration of Christ's birth, the Prince of Peace, gives us hope. There are few finer words to summarise this hope than those of a Syrian Teacher of the Faith, St Ephrem the Deacon, (commemorated in the Church of England on 9 June). He died in 373. Here is an extract from one of his Christmas hymns:
The feast day of your birth resembles You, LordA happy, blessed and peaceful Christmas to all Eurobishop readers!
Because it brings joy to all humanity.
Old people and infants alike enjoy your day.
Your day is celebrated
from generation to generation.
Kings and emperors may pass away,
And the festivals to commemorate them soon lapse.
But your festival
will be remembered until the end of time.
Your day is a means and a pledge of peace.
At Your birth heaven and earth were reconciled,
Since you came from heaven to earth on that day
You forgave our sins and wiped away our guilt.
You gave us so many gifts on the day of your birth:
A treasure chest of spiritual medicines for the sick;
Spiritual light for the blind;
The cup of salvation for the thirsty;
The bread of life for the hungry.
In the winter when trees are bare,
You give us the most succulent spiritual fruit.
In the frost when the earth is barren,
You bring new hope to our souls.
In December when seeds are hidden in the soil,
The staff of life springs forth from the virgin womb