Message from Bishop John for the First Sunday of AdventSunday 1st December 2019
Despite the fact that we are only just at the beginning of December and the Season of Advent, people have already been preparing for Christmas for several weeks. Television commercials have relentless advertising of food and clothes and special offers and, in Manchester, the Christmas markets are in full flow, crowded with thousands of visitors from around Manchester and much further afield.
The markets are busy places and over the next few weeks so many of us will gather there to have a day out, to shop, to eat and to celebrate. There is certainly nothing wrong in celebrating Christmas in this way, even if it starts so early, but we stand in danger of making two important mistakes.
In the first place, we may well be ignoring a local crisis. When we attend the markets do we look around us at what else is going on in Manchester? Last week I walked from Salford Cathedral, via the markets, to attend a meeting at Manchester Cathedral. In the shadows of the market, I witnessed a number of homeless people huddled in doorways. People were out celebrating, loaded with shopping bags and presents who were stepping over them as they went on their way.
This is now such a common sight in Manchester that we can become immune and walk on by. In a city full of festive cheer we have a growing number of people who, as we celebrate, have no joy or happiness in their lives. Despite the genuinely good intentions of the Mayor of Greater Manchester to make housing a priority, and the generous work of churches and social groups offering increasing places in night shelter accommodation, the problem just seems to get worse. Surely, in a city that has so much prosperity, we cannot allow ourselves to fail people in this way? This is a scandal on our doorsteps that we as Christians cannot choose to ignore. We all have a responsibility to take action to challenge the injustice we see on our streets. These are our brothers and sisters and we all need to act.
The second mistake that we may easily make is that, in the rush and busyness to give presents, have parties and eat traditional meals with family and friends, we may well miss the real point and meaning of our celebration: That God loved the world so much that he sent His Son Jesus, to live among us and bring us hope. By all means, let us be sure to enjoy Christmas but let us spend the next four weeks preparing for Christmas by remembering its real meaning and remembering the suffering of those even so close by.