Bishop John McDowell, Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, and Mgr Joseph McGuinness, Roman Catholic Diocesan Administrator of Clogher
When the great biblical scholar Monsignor Ronald Knox was only four years old he was asked by one of his parents what he did when he couldn't sleep at night. He is said to have replied: 'I lie awake and think about the past' - an unusual answer for a child.
Over the past twelve months we on this island have been invited to think a great deal about the past - or more precisely the past of 100 years ago - a time of revolution and war. It was a time of unprecedented violence in Ireland and in the world and we have every reason to be thankful that we now no longer resort to violence to settle our differences.
However it is not so very different today in other places. Although there is no world war there are wars all over the world, and empires continue to be built and to collapse in violence. It is not even all that different from 2000 years ago when the child Jesus came into the world in the stable of Bethlehem. Jesus was born into a violent world, into an Empire founded on violence; and almost immediately that violence threatened him, in the form of King Herod, the servant of the Roman Empire. In the words of the Christmas carol: 'So he gave the word to slay, and slew the little childer…”
As then in Bethlehem, so now in Aleppo, Mosul, Cairo… the emperors of the modern world use their servants and the little children are slain. Sometimes, in the face of such darkness, we may wonder how the world holds together at all. For Christians the answer lies with the child in the manger, the Son sent by his Father to be a light that can never be overcome by darkness and to bring into the world a depth of love so great that it can never be overcome by any hatred or violence.
That light and love of the Son abides in the hearts of all of those born by water and the Spirit. Knowing this, we can never lose hope. Nor should we cease to support in prayer and in action all who are suffering the consequences of the violence of this world. May the Christmas season renew within us all the gifts of hope, charity and peace. May we not lie awake thinking about the past, fearful about the present or apprehensive about the future.
Instead may our hearts be touched by the peace of the child Jesus, whose hand closes round Mary's finger and with irresistible tenderness pulls down her love on him. May the tenderness of that love surround you and yours this Christmas.
Mgr Joseph McGuinness
The Rt Revd John McDowell
Monsignor Joseph McGuinness