“We must recover harmony in our society,” says Sheffield Bishop

This is the third time my wife Cathy and I have celebrated Christmas in Sheffield.

Wednesday, 25th December 2019, 12:00 am
Updated Friday, 27th December 2019, 12:46 pm

We’ve been married for 35 years and in some ways our Christmas traditions are quite fixed — some of our customs (like some of our tree decorations!) have been with us all that time. But we do try to add an occasional new decoration to the tree, and now I notice we have started to add some Sheffield customs to our Christmas celebrations.

Chief among these have been South Yorkshire folk carols. We have been surprised and utterly delighted to discover how, in pubs and village halls across the region, there’s a strong tradition of singing alternative Christmas carols, sometimes setting familiar words (like While shepherds watched their flocks by night) to unfamiliar and rousing tunes, sometimes preserving beautiful songs about the coming of Jesus which have fallen out of use in church.

Cathy and I were recently in a local pub on a Wednesday evening. It was packed to the rafters with people who had come to sing at the tops of their voices, with lots of laughter and no inhibitions, about the joy which has come into the world through the birth of Jesus.

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These carols have quickly become special to Cathy and me partly just because they’re so local. Many of the tunes are named after places in the Diocese I serve: Malin Bridge, Oughtbridge, Bradfield and so on. Among the

best known is a carol called Stannington — a new firm favourite of ours. It goes like this:

Sing, all ye people of the earth, today,

For Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day,

Ring out, ye joyous bells in heaven, ring on, For Christ is born!

Born in a stable bare of humble birth,

Born of a virgin pure to dwell on earth,

Let humankind rejoice on this great day, For Christ is born!

He came to us that wars on earth may cease,

He came to bring us hope and joy and peace.

Worship, O nations, at his feet today, For Christ is born!

Glory to God on high we all will sing,

Glory and praise we render to our king.

Peace on the earth, goodwill to all this day, For Christ is born!

The words pick up the story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.

The final verse is really a quotation from Luke 2 verse 14 — from the announcement by the angels to the shepherds that a Saviour was born: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth, among those he favours’.

I find those words truly poignant at the end of a year in which peace and goodwill have been in such short supply in this country, especially on social media and in Parliament.

We need urgently to recover harmony in our society: to live in peace and goodwill, especially with those who do not share our views.

We need to recover respect for one another, as human beings created in the image of God. We need to recover generosity in the way we relate to one another.

Above all we need to turn the page on a chapter of our nation’s story which has not been a happy one — and what better way to do that except to turn again to another story: the story of the birth of Jesus, born to bring good

news of great joy? He taught us to love our enemies, to good to others and not to judge them, to bless those who curse us, to be merciful like our Heavenly Father — to do to others as we would have them to to us (Luke 6.27-37).

I want to encourage you, if I may, to turn again to the story of the one who was born to be our Saviour, the one who became poor so that we might become rich and who died to give life to the world:

Sing, all ye people of the earth, today,

For Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day,

Ring out, ye joyous bells in heaven, ring on, For Christ is born!

May I wish you a joyful Christmas and a very happy New Year!