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Christmas Message to the Heads of Churches

Monday 25th December 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury sent the following Christmas Day message to Heads of Churches across the world, and to his fellow Primates and Presiding Bishops of the Anglican Communion.

'He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him' (John 1.11). Tragically, these words have sometimes been used as a reproach against the Jewish people, as if they bore a special responsibility for saying 'no' to God's gift in Christ. But the context makes it clear that when the evangelist speaks of Christ 'coming to his own' and being rejected, he is speaking of Christ's rejection by the world itself. The world is his; it has life only from him, and even the most hidden corner of creation depends upon him. Yet the world refuses to know him.

We are all 'his own' in this sense, and so we must all ask about the ways in which each of us says no to him. At Christmas, St John recalls us to repentance as well as to joy. He tells us that when we look around at our world and the terrible violence that disfigures it, we must recognise that the root of all this is the violence we turn against our own selves. We refuse to recognise who and what we are; and so we are unable to recognise, respect and love each other. We live in what St Augustine called a 'land of unlikeness' where we are distant from our true selves, which are in God's image.

The Christmas Gospel summons us to 'come to ourselves', like the Prodigal Son in his exile and humiliation (Luke 15.17). We are brought into the light of the presence of the Incarnate Lord so that we may see who we truly are and how much we have become strangers to our own nature and calling. The Gospel does not tell us that we must become something other than human or more than human. It offers an often inhuman world the possibility of being really human. Our human nature has been transfigured by the indwelling of Christ's glory, 'full of grace and truth', so that we are free to grow up into the maturity God desires for us.

So the Gospel prompts us to confront and resist every slavery and affront that is inflicted by human beings upon each other. As we remember the abolition of the slave trade two hundred years ago, we look around to see what new slaveries - of disease or debt or endemic warfare and terrorism - keep men and women in prison. And we give thanks for all who in our own times have in their words and actions spoken out for a humanity touched by God's grace and have recalled us to ourselves - to the vocation we all share as those whom God wants to be his children.

May God give all of us who are leaders and pastors in his Church the liberty and authority to become more fully his children in our lives and prayers - and to utter his call to 'his own' throughout the world, so that all human beings may come to themselves and be recreated in the image of his Son.

With my prayers and fraternal good wishes for this holy Season.

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