Warm Greetings this Christmas, and Best Wishes for a Good New Year!
Looking back over 2016 it's been a year of both challenges and steps forward locally, but also one where despite all our good work together, national and world events have had a big impact on our life as a town. Terrorist atrocities in Europe and beyond; extremists turning up either planned or without warning and spewing their hate on our streets; the continued erosion of so many services in the seemingly never ending austerity, and more lives messed with – these are things we've learned to deal with, much as we hate it. But the impact of the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump as US president has been a rise in hate crime and incidents, and to provoke fear of future policies that will discriminate against many. These originate way beyond our town, it's hard to know what we can do.
With so much going on, so many uncertainties, so much negative I have found great strength this year in the themes that stand out so strong in the midst of the Christmas narrative. The promise to the Prophet Isaiah of the birth of one named the Prince of Peace (1). Mary's beautiful yet subversive song on hearing she would bear a son, in which she proclaimed him as one who would bring down mighty rulers, lift up the humble and bring justice to earth (2). The announcement by the angels of peace on earth and goodwill to men (3). The arrival of wise men from the east who came to worship a true king born in poverty rather than the cruel Herod they greeted in Jerusalem (4). And the birth of a child, born in humble & chaotic circumstances who I worship as God, and many of you honour as a Prophet, whose life would change the world.
The narrative of so many in our world at this time, and especially the extremists who've so plagued our lives since the turn of the millennium, is that the Muslim world and the Christian/ liberal democracies of the West are destined to a clash of cultures (5) it's worrying to see so many in the new Trump Administration as card carrying believers in that as the big picture of 21st Century International Relations. We've seen extremists trying to make that the defining story of Luton. But it's a joy to stand with my Christian and Muslim friends at the end of 2016 and say together that with the strong support of friends of other faiths, our local government, police and our wider community we are showing there is another way. That's the Luton Story! And that's the story we have for the world!
I trust the Christmas narrative of peace, justice and hope lifts your heart and energises you in some way over this season, whether you are a Christian, follow another faith, or are a person of no faith. It's a pleasure to work with you all!
I leave you with the message again of the angels, which is our message to all in 2017:
Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all!
(1) Isaiah 9.6
(2) Mary's Song, the Magnificat. Luke 1.46-55
(3) Luke 2. 8-14
(4) Matthew 2.1-12
(5) The heart of Samuel Huntingdons’s thesis of 2004 of a Clash of Civilisations.