EVEN though there is something amazing about going to a big Christmas service somewhere like Exeter Cathedral, I also really love being able to walk down to my parish church in Tiverton at Christmas – knowing that the people there are part of my local community, writes the Rt. Rev’d Jackie Searle.

I love seeing the Christmas tree, the candles on the Advent crown, the nativity scene, and the crib.

Wherever you live, I know the parish church is still an important place to many people at Christmas, and how many of you love to gather for carol services, crib services and Christingle services that are taking place. As Acting Bishop of Exeter, it is very important to me that everyone has access to a local church where they can worship and feel welcome. 

I also know that for some of you it is not easy or possible to get to your local church, and that is where articles such as this one in your local newspaper or services broadcast on Radio, TV or over the internet, play such an important and valuable role. These are the vital tools of community, giving us the means to celebrate Christmas together, even if we are physically apart.

When Jesus was born, he was born into his local community. He was born into a family, and he was born into a specific place.

The word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. The word became flesh, and God moved into the neighbourhood.

We remember that another name for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. This is who we celebrate when we come together at Christmas.

Earlier this year, I visited the Holy Land with a group of curates and bishops from the Diocese of Exeter.  Together we went to the places which are familiar from the Christmas story. 

We went to Bethlehem, to the Church of the Holy Nativity and to the shepherds’ fields bringing home to us that Jesus was born into this very specific locality.

We also met those who were called the living stones, the Christian people of that land. It was a very moving and wonderful experience. That land, of course, is now so troubled with the killing of thousands of innocent men, women and children. 

This has cast a very long shadow over our world at this time. When we sing our carols and tell again the Christmas story, the current reality of the Middle East cannot fail to be in our hearts and minds.

We're also aware of the continuing conflict in Ukraine and of some of the troubles and challenges closer to home. The cost-of-living crisis and some of the divisions that run so deep in our society. 

The Christian message is one of light and of hope, particularly at dark and difficult times. The light shines in the darkness, the Bible tells us, and that darkness has not overcome it.

In our churches and in our homes, we light candles at this time of year to remind us of the hope and the light of Christ. They are also a kind of prayer when we pray for our world. 

The prophet Isaiah says that the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light and we long and pray for that light in our world. I'm aware of so many people across all of Devon who are doing all they can to bring that light and hope to others.

The army of volunteers who will be cooking Christmas lunches. Those who are visiting the elderly and the sick. Those who are caring for young children. People working with those who are homeless or those living with addictions. Every action, every act of kindness and love is bringing that light and hope into our world. I want to thank you for all you are doing to be that light wherever you are.

I was told once that even the smallest little tealight, if put in a window on a dark night and without obstructions in the way, can be seen up to two miles away. Just think of the effect of that small light shining out in the darkness, and even more so when we join that light with others.

Together we are bearers of light and hope in our world.  I wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas. And may that light of Christ shine in our world, in our communities, in our churches and in our hearts.