The Bishop of St Asaph has asked for his Advent message to be circulated and so it forms today’s reflection for the First Sunday of Advent. It comes with my prayers and greetings as Year B begins this day: Happy New Year!
Advent Message 2023
Hello and warm greetings for the season of Advent. On this, the first Sunday in the Church’s year, I’d like to speak to you about our common life as the Teulu Asaph, the family of St Asaph.
In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew there is a passage,both stern and solemn. It’s one that we know quite well but perhaps not in its fullest sense. It comes from Matthew Chapter 18:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And he called a child, set him in front of them and said, “Truly, I tell you, unless you turn around and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself and becomes like this child, will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me.”
And then he says:
“If anyone causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Alas for the world that any child should be made to fall. Such things must happen but alas for the one through whom they happen.”
We’re not surprised, are we, by Jesus’ readiness to remind us of the importance of children. But we have to take seriously his stern warning, that God is especially concerned with the wellbeing of children and that the little ones are especially important to the Kingdom of Heaven.
I think this passage speaks to us in several ways.
Firstly, we are living in a world which is deeply troubling. Itmay be that we’re thinking about the children of Ukraine or the children of Gaza or the children of Israel; it maybe that we’re thinking about the children of refugees. They are all important in the eyes of God and we need to prioritise our concerns: to speak on their behalf, to advocate for their safety,to open the world’s hearts to be hospitable to them.
But it’s also important for us in Church that we are safe place for children and for vulnerable adults. Safeguarding is not always considered a topic about which people think easily or comfortably. Safeguarding is sometimes seen as a chore. DBS checks can be nuisance. Hearing about safeguarding,undertaking the training, can something seem unnecessary.
However, the truth is that safeguarding is important to the Church because, just as Jesus cares for the little ones, the Church must be a safe place, a place where the vulnerable can come and find safety. So, if you’re asked to do safeguarding training or if you’re asked to make the church more consciousof the safeguarding policies of the Church in Wales, this is not really a chore. This is about enabling the Church to be sensitive to the issues: to be aware of the risks, to be able to spot someone who might need the support and help of the Church.
The third thing, of course, is that we need to be a community that puts the values of children first, in the way that Jesus did. I’m immensely proud of the work our diocesan team does with our 50 church schools. I want to celebrate that work: the work in which we discover what it is to share the excitement of learning with a child, and a world where we learn from them what it is like to delight in the world and in God. It’s on that note, of caring for children, of building their future and becoming a safe church, and working for the Kingdom of Heaven that I want to end this Advent message.
A blessed Advent and Christmas to all.