Church of England bishops have used their Christmas messages to reflect on a "year of darkness and despair", reminding Christians that "God is with us, whatever we have to face and whatever life may bring."
They speak of hope and peace in the Christmas story, and the true joy it brings, even at a time of huge challenges – from the wars in Gaza and Ukraine to loss and hardship in the UK amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullally, speaks of a “distressing” year of conflicts across the globe, tearing people from their homes and separating them from loved ones:
“The story on which we build our faith does not speak of hope whilst ignoring suffering. It speaks of hope into that suffering. It speaks of light in darkness.
“Through the sheer vulnerability and yet the extraordinary tenacity of a new-born baby, it speaks of the cost and the risk of God’s utter commitment to the world and its people.”
In his message, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Rt Rev Michael Beasley, said:
"As we look at the world around us at the close of this year, it’s important to remember that Jesus came to be with us not just for the good times, but for the difficult too.
"Jesus is ‘God with us’ everywhere – in trenches in Ukraine, bomb shelters in Israel and Gaza, in hospital wards where loved ones die, in relationships where there is conflict and distress. The baby born in Bethlehem stands with us in all that we experience."
In a video message, the Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, spoke of the suffering inflicted by conflict, poverty, famine and natural disasters on children across the world:
“With God one day there will be no more crying – no more pain, no more death. Even now God longs to hold us – as children. Longs for us to cry ‘yes’ and to stretch out our hands to God and to each other. May it be so.”
The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Rev Alan Smith, spoke of the "deep shadows" cast by the conflict in Gaza and the war in Ukraine:
"Jesus teaches us that the journey to peace starts not with somebody else, but with each one of us.
“He calls us to self-examination and penitence and invites us to embrace a way of living whose hallmarks are integrity, generosity and mutual respect.”
In his message, the Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev Jonathan Gibbs, says:
“The message of the angels was that a Saviour had been born whose name was Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.
“This is the heart of the Christmas message: that God is with us, whatever we have to face and whatever life may bring.
“God has entered into our world to draw near to us – and He invites us to receive him into our lives, so that we may know for ourselves His love and joy and peace.
“That message is as relevant today as it has ever been – and perhaps even more so today with all the challenges that we are facing.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Rev Guli Francis-Dehqani, says: “At Christmas we remember the astonishing fact that, in the birth of Jesus Christ, God came to dwell with us, to make His home among us. The events of the first Christmas are rooted in a particular time and place, but God’s presence abides still and the invitation to draw near remains for each one of us.”
Meanwhile the Bishop of Loughborough, Rt Rev Saju Muthalaly, speaks of joy “even when things aren't going our way, even when times are rough.”
“Joy is not something that we acquire, buy, manufacture, or entertain ourselves into this Christmas,” he says.
“It is what we receive from what we open ourselves up to God in His Son, Jesus Christ.”
The Bishop of Salisbury, Rt Rev Stephen Lake, filmed a message partly in a food bank, which is seeing rising demand.
He says: “It’s a very different Christmas this year with so much of concern in our world. And it’s into that world that Jesus Christ is born, the word made flesh, God with us. And for me, that’s what makes Christmas real and meaningful – that God came to us and shares our life.
“And in many ways, it’s just as simple as that.”