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UK News

Exclusive: Justin Welby encourages Christians to set example by showing restraint this Christmas

by Marcus Jones

The Archbishop of Canterbury is urging Christians to show "prudence and caution" in the week ahead as Christmas approaches

The five day window for gatherings between friends and family this week has been scrapped, but apart from the south east of England, there will be a chance for people to meet together on Christmas Day. 

A snap poll just after Boris Johnson's announcement of tighter restrictions showed one in ten would break the rules to see family.

Justin Welby is encouraging believers to set an example by showing restraint.

In an exclusive interview with Premier (just before the Prime Minister's announcement), Archbishop Justin spoke of already deciding not to include his 90 year old mother in celebrations this year in order to protect her. A decision he described as "agonising".

"We discussed it together and she was quite clear, that this was sensible," he said.

The Anglican leader said it had been difficult trying to balance wanting to be with family along with prudence and caution.

"We're being very restrained and I'd encourage everyone to do that. I'd really encourage Christians to set the example to everyone else in the way they are prudent and sensible.

"There's one of my colleagues here, who has had long Covid. She says, 'when I see someone wearing a mask, it says to me, "I care for you".' In other words, us taking precautions is a sign of loving our neighbour."

Christmas isn't just being scaled back on a personal level. With many churches still to re-open for physical gatherings and others cancelling carol services because of new tier restrictions, some could say that one of the biggest evangelistic opportunities of the year has been missed.

Archbishop Justin is more optimistic. He suggests the current times give more weight to the message of the Christmas story. 

"I think we express the message of where people are at and what they're feeling at the moment by a clear focus on the person of Jesus Christ. 

"Because at Christmas, Jesus doesn't come to a palace, he doesn't come to security. He didn't come to a place that was comfortable. You've got the most vulnerable human being on the face of the planet, which is a baby, in a cave or stable with no bed, no medical attention, in a crowded war-ridden country at a time of extreme uncertainty. That's the message. 

"That's how God gets involved in this world. He comes right into the dirtiest, nastiest, most difficult parts of it and is utterly with us - Emmanuel, God with us. Not God at us or God looking down on us, but God with us. Keep to that message."

With online services taking place, there will be opportunities to invite friends and family to a carol event this year. While that might provide a chance for the sharing of faith, Archbishop Justin says the actions of Christians can be as powerful.

"First of all, we have to demonstrate the faith. That means love one another and love those in the world with the love of Christ.

"It doesn't matter how good we are at communication skills or how skilled we are in Zoom or YouTube or Twitter or whatever else it happens to be. If there isn't love, dream on sunshine, nothing's gonna happen. 

"So first thing: love. Love God. Love one another. Love those around us. Second, be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is within you. Have you heard that said before somewhere?"
Archbishop Justin Welby was speaking with Premier's David Senior.

Listen to the conversation here:

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