Christianity faces 'elimination' in the land of its birth, warns Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with Prime Minister David Cameron, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.Reuters

Christians face elimination in the very region in which the Christian faith began because of Daesh or Islamic State, the Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to say today.

Archbishop Justin Welby is expected to compare the "indescribable cruelty" of ISIS to the biblical story of the "massacre of the innocents" by King Herod the Great, who murdered all the male infants he could find in an attempt to prevent the Christ child from reaching adulthood and becoming "king". 

He accuses ISIS of preaching a "false apocalypse".

He says: "Today, across the Middle East, close to the area in which the angels announced God's apocalypse, ISIS and others claim that this is the time of an apocalypse, an unveiling created of their own terrible ideas, one which is igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression."

In extracts from his sermon at Canterbury Cathedral later this morning, released by his office early on Christmas morning, Archbishop Welby continues: "Confident that these are the last days, using force and indescribable cruelty, they seem to welcome all opposition, certain that the warfare unleashed confirms that these are indeed the end times. They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began. This apocalypse is defined by themselves and heralded only by the angel of death."

He says Herod too senses that the tiny, helpless, vulnerable, utterly normal baby Jesus is the ultimate threat to his power and authority.

"He is right: this child is the ultimate judge of all human power and authority," says Archbishop Welby. "Having heard about the birth of Jesus, Herod responds in devastating destruction. He tries to annihilate the apocalypse of God. Force meets love, and love has to flee into Egypt and returns to ordinary life and eventually to a cross and an empty tomb, conquering the world. At Christmas we are confronted with God's form of power, which judges all our forms of power."

To all who have been or are being dehumanised by the tyranny and cruelty of a Herod or an ISIS, a Herod of today, God's judgement comes as good news, because it promises justice, the Archbishop continues.

Boxing Day is the Feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and 28 December is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates those slaughtered by Herod.

Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke on a similar theme, arguing that to try to justify violence in the name of God is corrupt.

In his homily at Midnight Mass last night at Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Nichols said: "As this child is God in our flesh, then violence has no place at all in his presence. Even more emphatically, it means that any claim to justify such violence in the name of God is abhorrent. It is always a corruption of true faith."

He continued: "Let us be resolved to lay aside our own tendencies to angry violence so that we may condemn, with integrity, those who perpetrate such violence and claim for it the name of God."

He also led prayers for the victims of violence across the world. "We pray especially for our Christian brothers and sisters who suffer grievously for their faith in Jesus as their Lord, losing life and belongings, suffering torture and unspeakable cruelty for his sake."