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Christmas message from the Bishop of Guildford

Date: 19 December 2012
The Rt Revd Christopher Hill this Christmas writes:

John Betjeman is regarded as a national treasure. His published letters reveal another side to him, a doubting, struggling man of faith, for the words of the Creed did not come easily in spite of his deep attachment and love for the Church of England.

I have been re-reading his poetry in this light. Could he believe in God? Could he have self respect with his great sense of guilt? Could he believe the Christmas story? In the end, yes, but not without a ‘wrestling with God’ first.

So I came afresh to that well known Christmas piece of John Betjeman’s which, on the surface has a jingly feel to it. Jingles and Christmas do, of course, go together. Listen to some of the piped carols with an American accent in the supermarket.

Underneath, however, Betjeman expresses a faith which is costly and deep. Let Christmas have a little space for you to think about what Christmas really means, and if necessary, go in for some ‘wrestling with God’ as you come to something deeper and with greater integrity in terms of your own belief. Deepen your spirituality and faith this Christmas.

Here is the end of Betjeman’s simple, but profound Christmas ‘wrestling with God’.

And is it true? And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue, A Baby in an ox’s stall? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is, No loving finders tying strings Around those tissued fripperies, The Sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells, No carolling in frosty air, Nor all the steeple-shaking bells Can with this single Truth compare – That God was Man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine.

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“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field;

it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31

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