Summary: My all-age talk for Christmas Day 2012. Using an illustration of the extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle I ask people to think about the future of the Church in England. Will we listen to the leading authority in our Church and take action?
Since 2009 nights on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean will never be the same again. On 26 August 2009 the sound of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle was recorded for the last time. Since then there has been silence. The tiny animal was 2 cm in length and weighed less than a £1 coin. At the start of 2009 it was estimated there were 20 Pipistrelles left alive. 8 months later there were none. They once thrived on Christmas Island but are now believed to be extinct. Not one sound has been heard from a Pipistrelle in over 3 years; and Christmas Island will never be the same again. In early 2009 the leading authority on the Pipistrelle, Lindy Lumsden said, "If the current rate of decline continues, this species is likely to be extinct within 6 months. It is critical that a captive breeding program is established immediately as insurance against further decline and as a source of individuals to re-establish wild populations once the cause of decline has been identified and controlled."
Two hundred years ago, in the early 19th Century, as astonishing as it may seem, Christmas in Great Britain had become almost extinct. The Times newspaper did not mention Christmas once between 1790 and 1835. Not once! However, Charles Dickens was instrumental in reviving Christmas during the Victorian era. He wrote his book ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843 for several reasons. Unemployment and famine was widespread. About 1 in 10 people were as poor as you can possibly imagine, or worse than we can probably imagine. Dickens wanted to challenge the Government and the wealthy to act with generosity and with compassion and so his character Ebonezer Scrooge brings that challenge into focus. Nowadays, not many people want to be like Scrooge at the start of the book. I guess we all hope we can become more like the joyful, genial, generous Scrooge from the last scenes of the book or film. Dickens’ book helped to revive Christmas traditions of generosity within our country.
What about the Church? Well, I do not believe for a moment that the worldwide Church will ever become extinct; but what about the Church in England? More specifically, what about the Church of England?
The leading authority on the Christmas Island Pipistrelle was ignored until it was too late and now the Pipistrelle is extinct, although you can find similar creatures – not the same – on other islands.
Our leading authority is the Bishop of Chelmsford and he is helping us with our priorities for the future. One of those priorities is to evangelise effectively. That means telling people our story. Our story begins with Christ. God looked at the world and the mess we were in as people, as families, and as nations, and he sent us a gift. That gift was a baby. That gift was the Lord Jesus. He grew up. He learned from his parents and he learned from the scriptures and he reveals to us what God is really like; and so the simple message of Christmas is that ‘He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation’ (1:15).
He lived a perfect life, but he lived and ate food with people who were not perfect; and he calls us to follow him.
Christmas starts with Christ. My story and your story starts with Christ, and it is a story we cannot keep to ourselves. It is a story we must tell to our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues.
The Church of England is not about to become extinct; but if we ignore our leading authority – our Bishop – the Church of England may be heading for extinction in the next 10 to 20 years. I don’t want that to happen. God has given us the most fantastic gift – a gift to be shared with the world. Shall we do that together? Shall we agree to do that today?