Meanings of Christmas: A journey of the heart to hope: Today's articles in our series are sermons given at Christmas by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood.
Wednesday 29 December 1993
Then there is the journey of the shepherds to see this great thing which had came to pass, a journey made in hope and surprise and wonderment.
The journey of the Magi is a powerful symbol of the world's search for an answer to its problems. The fact that the tradition alternates between wise men and kings somehow pinpoints the world's dilemma about whether the answers lie in knowledge or in power. Finally, there is the journey into Egypt, the flight from Herod, but a flight which leaves a terrible trail of slaughtered innocents.
For many people today, I suspect, Christmas has this same character of a journey, a journey of the heart; a quest for some echo from the past, something remembered and partially lost; some hope and wonderment glimpsed, but only partially grasped; a search for meaning, with a star to guide us; or is it a flight from too much reality?
The journey of the heart may take us back to childhood, to Christmases as they used to be with their magic still untarnished. Or the journey of the heart may take us forward, beyond the tragedies and sufferings of today's world to a scarcely expressible hope; a world in which neighbours no longer bomb and shoot each other; a world in which people no longer starve or die of neglect; a world in which people no longer hate each other.
Both journeys have their attractions at Christmas time. But whether we look backwards or forwards, there are dangers. Cynics might be right to dismiss the backward look as mere nostalgia. They might be equally quick to label the forward look as mere utopianism. Despite the cynics, though, the search and the hope and the journey are not to be dismissed so easily. They represent a feeling out for something real, however elusive, which must not be abandoned, whatever the sneers, and whatever the disappointments.
I think particularly this Christmas of the search for lost innocence. With our consciousness of a society in deep moral trouble, it is the innocence of Christmas Day which grips the heart; the innocence of Virgin and Child; the innocence of murdered babies, which gives their feast day its name - Holy Innocents. And it is the shining innocence of Christ himself in the Gospel story, which both convicts us and uplifts us.
Yet innocence is not a quality by which today's world sets much store. It tends to be equated with ignorance and gullibility. The innocent are pitied and ridiculed for not being streetwise, for what are presumed to be their sheltered lives.
Nineteen ninety three has faced us with gnawing doubts about the innocence of children. We are increasingly conscious of how disastrously young minds can be polluted with images of horror, and become well-
educated in what the poet Traherne called 'the dirty devices of the world'. And even where innocence exists, what can it do in face of the murderous struggles around it? What can the children of Bosnia or countless other troubled areas of the world hope for, except to grow up quickly, or escape?
The search for lost innocence can easily begin to seem like a vain and misguided dream. But if innocence entails the clarity of childlike vision, isn't this what our world needs? 'Back to basics', if it means anything, must surely mean seeing our way through the murk and muddle of today's confused values to a few simple truths about human life - that we are made for God, and made for goodness.
If innocence is about the purity of heart which sees God in everything, then surely this is the vital counterpoise to a world of self-interested calculation. If it is about seeing the best in people, rather than the worst in them, then surely we need a few innocents among the carping destructiveness of so much of what passes for public life.
Innocence is not about ignorance, though some forms of ignorance may be worth cherishing in a society avid to fill minds with the products of other people's diseased imaginations. If we have that kind of ignorance, we can count ourselves lucky. But true innocence goes beyond this. It is all there in St Paul's classic description of the love which thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears ill things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things'.
And today's message is that such shining innocence is not a delusion. It has been made actual for us in the life of Jesus. And if we set out on a journey of the heart to Bethlehem, whether in wonderment like the shepherds or in puzzlement like the magi, we too may find its source. And in worship we shall taste its
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