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Bishop of Guildford's Christmas Message

Date: 19 December 2017

Competition‘Don’t worry Joe’, said my wife to our six-year-old son after he’d failed to win a prize at the music competition. ‘The most important thing is to do your best’. To which Joe replied, ‘You don’t understand, Mum. It’s all about winning!’

The spirit of competition is built into us from a very early age. Indeed biologists tell us that it’s part of being human: that competitiveness, the ‘survival of the fittest’, is a key component in the whole evolutionary endeavour. At its best, competition spurs us on to work hard, to be efficient, creative, courageous. At its worst, competition stops us from working together, and sends the weak to the wall.

Reflecting back over the past rather troubled year, competitiveness has been the name of the game. The political landscape has been dominated by slogans such as ‘America First’ or ‘Britain First’, with the Brexit negotiations seeing both sides uncomfortably jostling for competitive advantage. The religious landscape has witnessed different groupings vying for power, from Islamic terrorists in the Middle East to Hindu fundamentalists in India via Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar. In business, the survival of the fittest – or at least the smartest – remains basic to our whole economic model. Even in churches – and between churches - competitive power struggles have often consumed valuable energy, which should have been deployed for something nobler.  

So what happens where we need to work together, not least to proclaim the gospel of Christ and protect the weak from going to the wall? Where do we look for inspiration in a world where plastic is polluting our oceans, and the Arctic icecap is melting, where the rich-poor divide is growing, and many are living without God and without hope? How do we prevent another Grenfell Tower tragedy, with its graphic reminder of the sheer vulnerability of those whom the spirit of competition has left far behind? They’re challenging questions, and ones to which this Christmas season gives us the beginnings of an answer. 

Jesus nativity scene

For when God came to earth, He refused to press his overwhelming competitive advantage, in fact quite the reverse. He came unarmed and disarming in the body of a small child – weak, fragile and entirely dependent on the love of others for his very survival. From such humble beginnings, he went lower still, becoming known, disparagingly, as the ‘Friend of tax collectors and sinners’, while consistently rejecting the temptation to big himself up or misuse his remarkable powers. One of the very earliest of all Christian hymns speaks of how he ‘took the form of a slave’ and ‘humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross’. 

There is a power greater than the power of competition, is the message of Christmastime. There is a disarming strength that is released through human weakness – or better, human dependence on the divine. St Paul regularly speaks of the Christian life as a race, but never mentions his fellow competitors. Instead it’s Vision that drives his hard work, and the unending creativity and extraordinary courage that accompanies it: the vision of Christ’s glory that stopped him in his tracks on the Damascus Road and changed him forever.

Even Paul, though, allows us one last area in which Christians are permitted to be competitive. In Romans 12:10, the apostle writes:

‘Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour’.

And with that helpful encouragement  - not least if we find ourselves surrounded by children, small or large, for whom ‘it’s all about winning!’ - Have a very Happy Christmas!

12 comments

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  1. Maargery Day | Dec 23, 2017

    Thank you.A message to inspire us in our new Group Ministey here in Molesey.

  2. Lara Milne | Dec 22, 2017

    Thank you Bishop Andrew for an inspired and definately thought provoking message!

    As with the above writers I can see how relevant this message is to my Christian life in my church as well as at home.

    I pray that this Christmas, however hard it may seem that I will remember Paul’s words to love and honour everyone!

                                             

  3. Bassi Mirzania | Dec 20, 2017

    Dear Bishop Andrew

    You message for those of us Converts to Christian Faith is most inspiring, encouraging and hopeful. Thank you.

    Wishing you, the family and all those you serve and cared for every good wishes, joy, and peace at this Christmas, 2018 and always.

  4. Alex Russell | Dec 20, 2017
    Thank you - very timely for life here!
  5. Jacqueline Drake-Smith | Dec 20, 2017
    Thank you Bishop Andrew - a wonderful message of hope and encouragement to bring to Merrow - it will be displayed on our Centre and Church notice boards for all to reflect and ponder - the practice of which will no doubt begin for some of us on Christmas Day as we prepare to do 'battle' across the dining room table, duly set up for competitive board games galore! Wishing you, Beverly and all the family a restful and joyful Christmastide.
  6. Reverend Mandy MacVean | Dec 19, 2017
    A perfect message as Effingham and Little Bookham start 2018, not in competition, but as a United Parish! Thank you for your encouragement during the process and many Christmas best wishes from us all.
  7. Pat Shore - Church Warden | Dec 19, 2017

    Thank you Bishop Andrew for your Christmas Message, which really is, or should be, at the heart of our mission to bring churches together.  

    Happy Christmas from St Peter's Church, Hersham.

     
  8. Richard Lloyd | Dec 19, 2017
    Thank you Bishop Andrew - a great challenge for our churches to work in partnership and not competition.
  9. Alan Jenkins | Dec 19, 2017
    Thank you. Very pertinent and uplifting.
  10. Daphne McFarlane | Dec 19, 2017
    Thank you for your inspiring message. I wish you and your family a very Happy Christmas from St Andrew's Church, Cobham.
  11. Victoria Hicks | Dec 19, 2017
    A very relevant and thought provoking message, particularly to those living and parenting in a particularly high achieving area of Surrey!  Thank you.
  12. Jim Rapley Churchwarden Hawley | Dec 19, 2017
    Wonderful words thank you.

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