A very happy and blessed Christmas to you all! May you enjoy this festive season with those you love, and to share in celebrating together God’s most marvellous of all to his people – his gift of himself, to share in the realities of our lives, and to open for us the gateway to eternal life! May the Christmas promises of peace and goodwill to everyone fill your homes and your hearts!
One of my favourite Christmas carols is ‘O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie …’ Having had the privilege of returning to the Holy Land this year, with its many turmoils, I have been pondering again what the promise of God’s peace can mean for us, in the tumults of our lives. We sing about Bethlehem lying still – and yet, for most of us, the reality is that however quiet things may seem on the surface, there is always something going on at a deeper level within us. Often the things which most disturb us may not be directly visible on the outside – concerns about safety or health or relationships or work or money, for example, whether for ourselves or those who are dearest to us. These sorts of worries are common to human beings always and everywhere, and I think of them when I sing ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’
Yes, Jesus, the Christ child, Emmanuel – God with us, is the one who comes to us and meets us in our deepest inmost beings. We have a ‘God with skin on’ who understands what our hopes and fears are all about, and comes to bring us reassurance. He is the one who will see us safely through the journey of life, from birth through death to the eternal home that awaits us, if we will only trust ourselves to him.
And so each Christmas we remember his advent, his coming, as a tiny baby. In weakness and vulnerability he trusts himself to the care of Mary and Joseph, into the care of human beings. God’s gift comes to us also as God’s invitation – that we should in turn trust ourselves to him, in the same unconditional way, relying utterly on him to shape and form and direct our lives. It is for us to welcome him into our lives, as the child in the manger, and as our Saviour and Lord, as we sing ‘how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’, and have confidence that Jesus will come to us. We do not need a big fanfare to announce his arrival, we just need to be open and dare to believe, for ‘so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven’.
We know these lovely carols so well that sometimes we forget the deep truths their words convey. So this year, I invite you to pause and consider the words that you sing, and to join me in praying them for yourselves: ‘O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell, O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.’
As we come to the end of the year, let me express my deep appreciation, on behalf of us all, to everyone who has worked so hard in the service of the Province in the last year. It has been a particularly busy and demanding year, especially with our Provincial Synod, and I could not have come through it all without the assistance and support of a great number of people. As always, my first thanks go to Lungi and my children, who provide me with loving sustenance in more ways than I can count, and keep me human, with my feet firmly planted in the ‘real world’, should I be in danger of losing my perspective on life!
Bishop Paddy, as Dean of the Province, deserves particular thanks for all his support to me, and I also thank the Synod of Bishops for the mutually sustaining fellowship we share. Let me also pay tribute to the staff at Bishopscourt who do an unimaginable amount of hard work behind the scenes. I particularly give thanks for Revd Canon Robert Butterworth, who has long given unstintingly to the Province as Acting PEO, and who, just before Synod, had to stand down earlier than expected because of serious illness. Please hold him in your prayers as he continues his convalescence. We wish him and Alice a long and happy retirement. Thanks too, to Revd Allan Kannemeyer who has so ably picked up the reigns as PEO, as well as to Rob Rogerson and the finance team, and the others across the Province who support my work and ensure the smooth running of our Church.
Among these ‘invisible faces’ are the Communications Committee, chaired by Bishop Brian. Let me endorse their invitation to all Anglicans to take out a subscription to our Southern Anglican magazine. Four times a year you can read the latest news, as well as in depth articles about Anglican life in Southern Africa and around the Anglican Communion. It is a valuable resource for helping us keep in touch with one another better, across our vast Province, and for promoting our common life, our Vision, and how we express it in our mission and ministry. So please consider buying it, perhaps as a Christmas gift for yourselves, for friends, or for your Parish or other church-related institution!
I know that I am not alone in breathing a sigh of relief as I reach the end of this very busy and often hectic year. For you I especially pray for a time of rest and refreshment over the holiday period. As usual, my holidays will include a month off letter writing, so my next letter will be in February. So may I ask you to hold in your prayers both the elective assembly of the Diocese of George, and the Anglican Communion meeting of Primates in Ireland, both of which will be held in January.
Let me end by wishing you God’s rich blessing over the holidays and throughout the year ahead. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!
Yours in the service of Christ
+Thabo Cape Town