'Jesus changed things forever'. Justin Welby's Christmas address

Reuters

The Archbishop of Canterbury paid homage to the Christmas Truce of 1914 in his Christmas address.

Archbishop Welby was due to preach the message at Canterbury Cathedral this morning, but was unable to as he is unwell.

The message used the truce to highlight the difference between 'happily ever after' (an unreality which humans often crave) and the transforming power of the Gospel.

"At Christmas 1914 soldiers took the risk, crossed a battle-line and kindled an evening of friendship and football. It is the moment all have picked on this year, whether in adverts or sermons. The truce illustrates something of the heart of Christmas, whereby God sends his Son, that vulnerable sign of peace, to a weary war-torn world. The problem is that the way it is told now it seems to end with a 'happy ever after'," the Archbishop said.

"Of course we like Christmas stories with happy endings: singing carols, swapping photos, shaking hands, sharing chocolate, but the following day the war continued with the same severity. Nothing had changed; it was a one-day wonder. That is not the world in which we live, truces are rare...

"The Christmas story could be told simply with a happy ending where the gospel reading ended. 'Shepherds are cold, shepherds see angels, shepherds head into town and see baby, and shepherds disappear into sunrise, happy'. If we end there, Christmas removes us from reality. Christmas becomes something utterly remote, about lives entirely different, fictional, na├»ve, tidy. That's not Christmas. Jesus came to the reality of this world to transform that reality - not to take us into some fantasy kind of 'happy ever after' but to 'Good News of great joy for all people.'

"It is Good News precisely because God addresses the world as it is. Isaiah speaks of warriors and garments rolled in blood, of yokes on people's shoulders, of oppression. We know that story; it is the lived reality of so many suffering today. Yet Isaiah announces the news of God bringing light, joy, and exultation, through a child!

It is 'good news of great joy' because a helpless baby (who is God) becomes the one who changes this world decisively. Differently to any other figure in human history Jesus breaks in, not to help us escape, but to transform and take hold of our past, our present and our future. This baby brings the promise of forgiveness, the certainty of love and the hope of peace.

"This means that whilst we must truly face the state of the world to which Jesus came, we can - we must - be equally realistic about the difference he makes.

"Jesus did not come for one day. Jesus changed things for ever."