Long May She Reign!
In recent months our national Christian leaders in the UK seem to have been very reluctant to speak out anything which remotely sounds like a Christian message, or to speak up for the Christian faith and Christian truth in the media. This has been so noticeable that powerful voices from outside the church have been expressing their surprise and disappointment.
In my last blog, for example, I reported how the Prime Minister, David Cameron, chided church leaders in Christ Church, Oxford for their lack of commitment in the public arena to what Christianity is all about. I was surprised and thrilled that he should speak out in this way.
But on Christmas Day things got even better! And it wasn’t because those churchmen had heeded what David Cameron had said, but because a certain 85-year old lady used the opportunity of her Christmas message to do what others had singularly failed to do!
In 1932 King George the Vth was encouraged by the BBC to use the new medium of radio to address the people of Britain and the nations of the then British Empire. His broadcast was an instant success and ever since the King or Queen’s Christmas address has been a long-standing Christmas tradition. The broadcast has always been timed for 3.00pm in the afternoon so that replete with turkey and Christmas pudding the nation can settle back to watch and listen to what the Monarch has to say. 2011 was no exception, but it was radically different from every preceding Christmas address there has ever been, although many of them have referred to God and the Christmas message in various, generally low-key, ways.
One of the most memorable was the first wartime Christmas and New Year message, delivered by King George the VIth, the father of our present Queen. In this highly significant address he made the following words from Minnie Harkins poem famous, when he quoted:
“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!”
There is no doubt that the Queen will have remembered her father speaking those words. In this year’s Christmas message she made it very clear that she had put her hand into the hand of God and that there could be no compromise about the true meaning of Christmas.
The Christmas address is traditionally always written by the Queen herself – it is one of those rare public utterances about which she does not turn to the government for advice. There is little doubt that if she had submitted her address for comment and approval it would have been politely returned to her with suggestions that her message should be more inclusive of people of other faiths and be a little more politically correct! But as the most senior member of the Church of England, it seems that God’s hand was clearly upon hers as she wrote the words that would be broadcast to the nation on Christmas Day.
In an era when the leaders of our churches in the UK seem to have lost all confidence in the Gospel, I am giving special thanks for the Queen of England who, remarkably, in her personal Christmas message to all the peoples of the 52 members of the Commonwealth of Nations, decided to give the heart of the gospel to all her peoples.
After referring to the importance of family and of God-given love that brings people together, this is what she said towards the end of her televised address. What a relief that the Head of the Church of England could give such a clear testimony to the truth of the Gospel!
“Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
‘For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord. I wish you all a very happy Christmas.”
I doubt if we were the only ones who were choking back the tears, as in stunned amazement we realised that the Queen had just told the world that she was praying for all who listened to her, that they would find room in their lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord!
Judging by the number of people around the world who normally listen to the Queen’s Christmas message – probably as many as hundreds of millions – this broadcast could possibly go down in history as the most succinct and widely listened to Christian gospel message ever!
I found myself praying the words of the national anthem “Long to reign over us” with renewed thanksgiving for the Queen and what she had just done. The Queen is unchallenged as the most senior and most respected of all the world’s Heads of State and I believe this was an event of great spiritual significance for the nation – and not just for the UK, but for all the countries of the world. Long, indeed, may she reign.