THE Dean of Durham has slated schools and civic leaders from turning their back on traditional Christmas wishes and nativity plays.
The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove used his Christmas to lambast the actions of those who shy away from wishing people “Happy Christmas” for fear of causing offence.
“On the Town Hall we now have ‘Seasons Greetings’ instead - without so much as an apostrophe,” he said.
“We seem to be losing confidence in festivals our country has been observing for centuries.
“Our friends of other religious faiths are telling us not to give in. They don’t want us to forget Britain’s deep Christian roots.
“Some Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus join in out of respect for our native culture, or because they honour Jesus as a prophet.”
The Dean also criticised schools for ditching or altering nativity plays, in some cases adding celebrities, Star Wars characters and aliens.
“There are some where the infant Christ should be, there is some more modern messiah like Elvis Presley. You may not believe it, but I assure out it’s true. Welcome to the nativity 2014 -style,” he told his congregation.
“I read a news item recently telling us that in some schools teachers are scared of causing offence by talking to children about Jesus’s birth.
“‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ asked The Star. Apparently not. A worrying proportion of youngsters when asked could not name the child in the manger - or his parents.”
The Very Rev Sadgrove was speaking at the Christmas Eve midnight service at Durham Cathedral, where told the congregation he understood they had not turned out to hear a “rant from the pulpit”, but a message of Christmas.
He said that message was a crucially important one, no less relevant today than it was at the time of Mary and Joseph.
“When Jesus was born the world was as troubled as it is now. Nations were in as much turmoil as they are now,” he said.
He said Mary and Joseph were a humble family dependent on the kindness of strangers, and the shepherds - the first witnesses to the Christmas miracle - were very much on the sidelines of society, much like the homeless and asylum seekers today.
“So in a way, the Christmas story is a gallery of nobodies: the child of humble parents, these first witnesses the shepherds. None of them belonged to places where important people noticed and paid attention.
“This is why it is decidedly odd to fill the nativity scene with celebrities and stars. It just misreads the story.”
He added: “The stars belong in the night sky, where the angels sing glory God on highest. It’s the favourless and the ignored to whom the son of God is first laid bare - they were ordinary people who witnessed something extraordinary.”
The Dean said some came to church at Christmas out of nostalgia, but he wanted to take “our motives more seriously”.
He said he knew many people who were touched by Christmas and the story of a new beginning.
“Perhaps it is those with nothing to lose who see best into the heart of Christmas, what it means and how it changes everything,” he said.
“How it gives us back our hope for the world and all its troubles and pain, and gives us back our hope for ourselves.”
* This article was originally published stating the sermon was by the Bishop of Durham.
We would like to apologise to the Bishop, the Right Reverend Paul Butler.