Rowan Williams on Barth’s Christmas Message heard today


An extraordinary meditation on Christmas by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Telegraph today.

Some pieces of the longer essay motivated by looking for lessons for our day in Barth’s 1931 Christmas Sermon:

“What Barth saw beginning to take its grip on Germany in 1931 was a system of ‘principle’ that worked quite consistently once you accepted that quite a lot of people that you might have thought mattered as human beings actually didn’t. As the nightmare decade unfolded, the implications of this became clearer and clearer. And what he was warning against was the temptation of unconditional loyalty to a system, a programme, a ’cause’ which was essentially about ‘me and people like me’. It’s about the danger of my agenda, our needs, the programme of this particular group, its safety and prosperity.

And Christmas is supremely the story of a God who is not interested in telling us about principles. First comes the action – God beginning to live a human life. Then comes the appeal: do you love and trust what you see in this human life, the life of Jesus? Then the implication: everyone is capable of saying yes to this appeal, so no one is dispensable. You don’t and can’t know where the boundary will lie between people who belong and people who don’t belong.

[…]The God of the Christmas story (and the rest of the Gospels) doesn’t relate to us on the basis of any theory. but on the basis of unconditional love and welcome. That act of free love towards the entire human race changed things – even for those who didn’t and don’t share all the beliefs and doctrines of Christianity. And for those who do share those convictions, loving God and one another is a defiance of all programmes and principles designed to preserve only the wellbeing of people like us.

All of us, Christians most definitely included, have problems living up to this. But that’s one reason why we tell this story repeatedly, the story of the ‘unprincipled’ God who values what others don’t notice, who relates to people we’d all rather forget, whose appeal is to everyone because he has made everyone capable of loving response.”

Read the full article here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...