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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Christmas Message for the Anglican Communion

Friday 6th December 2002

Dr Williams' first Christmas message to the Anglican Communion.

One of the great treasures of the Christian world is the great heritage of Christmas songs and carols in the English language from the Middle Ages. Modern composers still want to set these beautiful and often surprising words. Some will have heard the carol beginning 'There is no rose of such virtue as is the Rose that bare Jesu' - which picks up the ancient tradition of describing Mary as the rose blossoming from the wintry earth of human history.

But the important words come in the second verse: 'For in this Rose contained was Heaven and earth in little space'. Jesus in the womb of Mary is already the one 'in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily', in St Paul's wonderful words in Colossians. The eternal Son of God is not contained by the universe; he is what surrounds and sustains it all. Heaven and earth live by the gift of life from him ('in him was life', says St John's Gospel).

And here, in the 'little space' of Mary's body, divine fullness is alive; when Jesus is born, 'the fullness of him who fills all in all', to quote Paul again, is wrapped in cloths and tucked into a feeding trough. After the crucifixion, the fullness of God's life is locked away in the tomb. God's way with us is not to overwhelm us with majesty but to live his life 'in little space' and to speak there the quiet words that summon us to faith.

Only when we are very quiet can we hear. Only when we stand still can we give him room. Faced with the fullness of God in the embryo, the baby, the tired wanderer in Galilee, the body on the cross, we have to look at ourselves hard, and ask what it is that makes us too massive and clumsy to go into the 'little space' where we meet God in Jesus Christ.

It may be our wealth and security; it may be our ambition; it may be our images of ourselves as powerful or virtuous or godly. The world - and the Church - are still fairly full of people (like you and me) who walk around surrounded by inflated ideas and pictures of ourselves that crowd out others and push away God. We need at Christmas above all to remember what Christ says again and again - that there is no way in to his little space without shedding our great load of arrogant self-reliance, bluster, noisy fear and fantasy.

And when we have set this aside, we find that it is only in the little space that there is room enough for all of us - forgiven, welcomed, made inheritors of the divine fullness of life and joy that God longs to share with us. Behind the low door of the stable is infinity - and more, an infinity of mercy and love. No straining our eyes to see a distant God; but a God whose fullness dwells in that space we are not small and simple enough to enter.

© Rowan Williams 2002

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