“Over the past year we have met many challenges. People are still grappling with the effects of the coronavirus. Conflicts rage on in many countries across the world. Compounding this, the cost of living crisis is pushing many deeper into poverty as they struggle with day-to-day living costs”. With these words, the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, Andrew John, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff and Bishop of Menevia, Mark O’Toole, displayed their good relationship and collaboration in carrying out their mission. For the first time, they wrote a joint message, encouraging people to return to church this Christmas, after years of pandemic.
Their letter begins with a story about the origin of Stille nacht (“Silent Night”). It was first performed on the night of 24 December 1818, at the end of Mass at Saint Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Austria. “On 24 December 1818”, write the archbishops, “Joseph Mohr, a young priest from a small town in Austria met with Franz Xavez Gruber, a local schoolmaster and organist, to share a poem he had written called ‘Stille Nacht’. Fr Joseph had asked Gruber to put the words to music in the hope that the newly composed song could be performed later in the parish church as the townspeople celebrated the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas Eve. Whilst Gruber managed to compose a melody in just half a day, when they reached the church, they realised that the organ had been destroyed by mice. There was no way that the organ could be fixed before the service. They were both in despair”. But the Lord did not abandon them. In fact, “in the quiet of the evening, after the church service was over, Mohr found a guitar and, in harmony with Gruber, they gently sang their song for the first time. [...] An evening that began in disaster, ended with a melody of peace”, note John and O’Toole.
Often in our life, moments of hardship may rob us of hope, but the story of salvation shows us that God writes straight with crooked lines. “Much like the story of ‘Silent Night’, the Christmas story also begins tumultuously [...]. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that there was no room available for them. Yet, in the darkness of the night overlooked by an eastern star, God was made incarnate. An evening that began in fear, ended with the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace”. He, the message continues, is the one who opens our eyes, allowing us to see “flickers of light in the darkness”. Nevertheless, we still risk forgetting who we are celebrating, because of “the busyness of preparations, cooking, shopping and wrapping presents”. Here then is the invitation: “Why not come to Church this Christmas to place the Prince of Peace at the centre once more? A warm welcome — Croeso — awaits you. A Happy and Blessed Christmas to you all!”, conclude the Archbishops.