A New Year’s message from George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury
New Year in Canterbury, as in so many towns and cities, is a busy time for bargain hunters. Here too, the January sales started in December. As with so much of modern life, people are in a great rush to get ahead, to get things done. But New Year is also a chance to take stock, to look beyond the next shop window further into the future and deeper into ourselves. It’s a time to examine the forces shaping our lives. And the power we have – or lack – to shape them ourselves.
And that, believe it or not, leads me to this young man. Yes, he’s made his mark in Canterbury too. Like many people, I found the Harry Potter film great fun. But like most good fantasies, it also asks some very real questions, including questions about the true source of power in our lives. At one point, young Harry is told: ‘There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it’. Well, as Harry goes on to prove, that’s nonsense. But there are times when we all feel weak and pretty powerless. In the last twelve months in this country, farming communities, devastated by the effects of foot and mouth disease, have known all too well, feelings of vulnerability and impotence.
But nowhere has our sense of powerlessness been stronger, I suspect, than at the time of the terrorist attacks in the United States. People watched, horrified, there in New York and on television around the world, helpless to do anything to forestall the unfolding tragedy. The power to destroy on such a huge scale seemed for a time totally unchecked. So much torn down, so much hatred; so many innocent lives wiped out. If that kind of power – the power to demolish and lay waste – is what really shapes our lives, then we all have much to fear.
But that is not the final word. Not now, not then. Even on September 11th, people we would otherwise call ordinary did remarkable and heroic deeds. On a doomed place, they fought with the hijackers. In the stricken towers thy risked, and sometimes lost their lives trying to save others. Facing death, many spoke final words of love.
Somehow we know that, at moments like that, love is not a weak word, but something of immense power – standing at the heart of all that is most precious and most true. For Christians everywhere the power of that love is centred in Christ coming to us as a child, and in his death on a lonely cross. In Christ we see not the love of power, but the power of love. So how do we, as individuals, with all our weaknesses, tap that power – the power that creates rather than destroys?
Someone I’ve known a long time now is Sheila Lloyd, from Folkestone. Seventeen years ago, Sheila’s faith and her compassion for people in crisis and need in the developing world brought to birth something special. Starting from her own front room in Folkestone, she launched an initiative called Operation Sunshine that has now sent 150 containers of supplies to more than a dozen countries, the latest to Afghanistan.
Sheila’s story shows how, from modest beginnings, the loving commitment of one woman has made a difference to hundreds of thousands of lives. The example of Sheila and many others up and down the country offers us a message of hope this New Year, based on the power of love. The love that is small enough to nestle in the human heart. And great enough to move the sun and all the stars.
A happy new year.
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