JOINT CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR 2023
THE RIGHT REV DR IAN ELLIS,
CHURCH OF IRELAND BISHOP OF CLOGHER
THE MOST REV LARRY DUFFY,
ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CLOGHER
A highlight for many people over the Christmas season is attending a Carol Service. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve is a favourite enjoyed by millions of television viewers.
A favourite Christmas hymn often used at a Carol service is “It came upon a midnight clear’.
‘It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
‘Peace on the earth good will to all
from heaven’s all-gracious King!’;
the world in solemn stillness lay
to hear the angels sing’.
It is a poetic rendering of the message of the angels to the shepherds from St Luke’s Gospel on that first Christmas. It is particularly moving when sung at night as it captures the awe of the heavenly host proclaiming the message of peace brought to world by the birth of Jesus.
It was written in 1849 by Edmund Sears, a pastor of the Unitarian Church in Massachusetts, USA. It seems it was composed during a period of personal sadness, and with news of revolution in Europe and the United States’ war with Mexico in mind. Sears portrayed a world full of woes not paying attention to the message of the angels – ‘and warring humankind hears not, the words of peace they bring’. It is remarkable for its focus not just on Bethlehem, but on his own time, and on the contemporary issue of war.
The hymn has a timely message for our us amidst the conflicts in Israel and Gaza and in the Ukraine. Also at a time of climate emergency, the song of ‘angels bending near the earth’ calls us to live more harmoniously with creation. It finishes with the prayerful plea, which we could echo this Christmas – ‘O hush the noise of human strife and hear the angels sing’.
As we move into an unknown, uncertain, and unpredictable New Year, peace is the gift that we most need. Jesus spoke of this to his disciples ‘my peace I give onto you, not as the word gives give onto you’. The divine gift is quite different from anything the world can offer. In a time of insecurity, having a still centre to our lives can help us cope with the stresses and strains that will surely face us in the coming year.
Despite what we see happening in the world –war in the land of the Holy One, suffering of the innocent, cruelty, and abuse of creation, we believe that God offers afresh his gift of peace. The miracle persists – placing our hope in the Word made flesh reveals his gifts of wholeness, reconciliation, and real change. God’s peace brings the hope of a renewed relationship with him, restored relationships with others and a transformed relationship with the created world.
May we this Christmas as individuals and as communities of faith, in heart and mind ‘hear the angels sing’ the message of Christ’s peace and pray for peace in his world.
Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year,
Yours in Christ,
+ Ian Ellis + Larry Duffy
Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher