At Christmas, the Catholic and Protestant bishops in Germany condemned exclusion and hatred of refugees, for example, and called for more commitment to climate protection. They also stressed the hope that comes from the birth of Jesus.
The president of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, spoke of a troubled 2019 in which "tensions, polarizations, uncertainties and fears" have grown. "Somehow we feel that an old world is passing away, but what is coming is not yet really visible and therefore triggers worries and fears," the Munich archbishop said Tuesday evening at Christmas Eve Mass in the Liebfrauendom, according to the speech manuscript.
For many, the well-being of the planet is at the center of their concerns. The demonstrations of young people in particular have stirred up people, Marx said. But questions remained about what to do and how to move forward.
The cardinal explained that in the incarnation of God, he takes everyone "in his gaze and in his arms". Being a Christian, therefore, means "participating in this project of God for the redemption of the world". Whoever takes this message seriously must work for the good of people and the environment and must no longer see only his own ego, his own nation and have his own interests in mind.
Bedford-Strohm: "Festival of boundless hope"
The chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, described Christmas as a "festival of boundless hope". With the birth of Jesus, God's love took on human form. This message does not leave even people cold "who actually have nothing to do with religion," said the Bavarian bishop. It unites people of very different cultures and nationalities, because God did not first become German or Chinese, American or African, "but simply human".
In Bethlehem, numerous visitors lined the path of the solemn entry of the Jerusalem Patriarchate leader Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa. He sees hope in the celebrating crowd, the Italian said as he made his way through the Old City: "To see these people standing here, to see their commitment, that is Christmas!"
Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem this year will largely take place without the Christians from the Gaza Strip. According to the Catholic priest of Gaza, as of Tuesday Israel had approved only 306 of the 950 applications for Christians living in the Gaza Strip to leave the country. Twenty of the 117 Catholics from Gaza received permission to leave the country.
Cardinal Woelki: No one should be left alone at Christmas
Cologne Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki calls on everyone to keep lonely people company at Christmas. "When we celebrate Christmas in these days all over the world, no one should really be left alone," Woelki said Wednesday in his "Word of the Bishop". "Address your counterpart! There is someone waiting for you, and there is someone rejoicing
guaranteed about it."
"Everywhere people suffer from isolation and loneliness, which makes people sick," the Cologne cardinal stressed. More and more people not only lived alone, but were also completely isolated. "I worry when I hear that even young people are increasingly suffering the consequences of loneliness," he said. "Do not lose sight of all those who are there alone and lonely."
Bishop Overbeck deplores "ruthless exploitation of nature"
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of the Ruhr denounced the "ruthless exploitation of nature". "We are at a point where we must repentantly and honestly admit to ourselves that we have sinned and continue to sin in many ways against creation," he said at Christmas Eve Mass in Essen Cathedral. The earth, on which God became man in Jesus, is burdened by climate change, throwaway culture and waste of resources, he said.
Overbeck pleaded, according to the text of the speech distributed in advance, for a "holistic ecology", in which it is also about the fundamental ethical claim to realize an effective common good for poor and disadvantaged people. What is needed, he said, are sustainable economies, more modest lifestyles, environmentally sustainable building management and green mobility.
"Responsibility for creation is a significant spiritual and therefore ecclesial mission," the bishop said. He praised the youth movement "Fridays for Future," but warned against an end-time mood. Christians live out of hope for the future and not out of fear.
Ackermann: Incarnation is not beneath God's dignity
Christmas, according to Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann, shows a deep commitment of God to being human. "Becoming human is not beneath God's dignity," Ackermann said at a service in Trier Cathedral on Christmas Day. By becoming man in the child of Bethlehem, God unites himself ever more closely with his creature and professes his love for him.
With his message and his life, Jesus shows to what "height of life" man is called: "To nothing less than love. It is the most obvious and at the same time the most demanding thing of which man is capable," said Ackermann.
Christmas, with its message of God's incarnation, is ultimately the celebration of life. "That life is given to us, that we exist at all and that we may be aware of it, is reason for joy," said the bishop. This is true despite all burdens and fears.
From the perspective of the biblical texts, human dignity is not identical with a person's individual capacity, he said. Every human being has this dignity, "regardless of his physical, mental or moral strength". According to Bishop Ackermann, people should meet each other in this attitude.
Genn: Christmas message has potential for peace
Munster's Bishop Felix Genn appealed to people at Christmas to work for peace and justice in the world. The message of the birth of Jesus is the only word with so much potential for the possibility of swords being forged into plowshares, he said on Christmas Day in Munster Cathedral. "Today we celebrate the patent of Christianity: the non-violent love for which God himself stands with flesh and blood."
This is not simply a moral appeal to accept one another and not to label them, but the program of God himself, Genn said, according to the speech excerpt. In view of the current world situation, it would also be very welcome today "if peace were proclaimed in general for the world and without any nuclear deployment possibilities," the bishop emphasized. Christmas is the great counterpart to the entire power of wickedness. The many small steps taken by Christians in various initiatives are urgently needed to make peace possible.
Wilmer: God gives security for all
Hildesheim Bishop Heiner Wilmer reminded people at Christmas that God provides security for all people. He also gives "a home to the stranded, the refugees, the homeless and the mentally unhoused," he said on Christmas Day in Hildesheim's St. Mary's Cathedral. God also stands by the side of those who have been especially tested, who may have lost a loved one, and tells them: "You will not fall from my arms. I give you my word, you are saved."
"God's word says 'yes' to you. Even and especially when everything is just hard," Wilmer said, according to the speech transcript. It does not matter at all whether a person has difficulties with God and has turned away from him. God keeps him nevertheless. "What a day! What a word! I hold you, no matter how you relate to me," said the bishop.
Bode: The church's talk of God has become untrustworthy to many
For Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, a loss of trust in the church is partly responsible for a loss of faith in society. Today, people still associate the word "God" with a "higher, impersonal something as the basis of life," said Bode on Christmas Day in Osnabruck Cathedral. But as a living person, with whom one is on a first-name basis, God is absolutely foreign to many people. "That is above all also because the church's talk of God and about God has become untrustworthy to them," says Bode.
Too often it has been used as a justification for all sorts of things, to give weight to one's own opinion and power and to make it unquestionable, Bode said, according to the speech manuscript. That is why it is so difficult today "to speak of eternal truths or even of the infallibility of the Church or of the Pope".
According to the bishop, the church and Christians are credible and trustworthy where they speak of their good experiences with God and not only about their theological reflections. They are convincing when you can see that God has changed their lives in a positive way.
Hebe: God's "deal" on Christmas is a selfless exchange
Hamburg's Archbishop Stefan Hebe has called for getting involved in God's "deal" for Christmas. It is a selfless exchange that God makes with the incarnation of his Son, he said at the Christmas Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary in Hamburg. "This God exchanges sides. He comes from his glory to this earth. He wants to share our lives, our joy and hope, but also our fear and our insecurity," said the archbishop. At the same time he renounces any consideration.
God does not only share life with people, Hebe said, according to the speech transcript. He also wants to lead them over into his life. His request, he said, is that people open their earthly life to his heavenly one, so "that in our dying we can exchange it with his divine life".
No one knows yet what the Brexit deal will look like, Hebe said. Even whether the EU's Green Deal for climate neutrality by 2050 will work is an open question, he said. However, people are already benefiting from God's deal at Christmas. He could be a good deal for them if they agreed to it, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Becker calls for love of neighbor
The Archbishop of Paderborn, Hans-Josef Becker, called for more charity at Christmas. God only becomes man "where the hungry can find bread, the outcasts and arrivals can find accommodation, the peaceless can find peace and the homeless can find a home," he said in the Christmas service in Paderborn Cathedral.
To be sure, even after the incarnation of God, there is not only light in the world, but also darkness, the archbishop said, according to the speech excerpt. While one receives the light, the other does not leave room for it. "The impression that God incarnate has disappeared from the world again can only arise where there are no people who act in a convincingly human way."
In the Christmas Mass, Becker deplored a crisis of God. "Honestly, you can't talk about Christmas without talking about God. Can we still do this: speak of God and to him?", God is no longer a topic today in many cases. According to Becker, it even appears that God has been marginalized in the practice of many Christians as well. "In recent months, I have more and more the impression that we constantly talk our heads off, but the heart remains cold."
God is not denied, "but we don't count on him either, at least not seriously," the archbishop said, according to the speech excerpt. Therefore, it is hardly visible what Christians and the Church owe to the world: "That we stand up for God."
Bishop Neymeyr: Christmas encourages civil courage
According to the Catholic bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, Christmas gives courage for civil courage. The Christmas message is "Fear not" and has "lost nothing of its urgency and topicality to this day," the bishop of the diocese of Erfurt told MDR radio on Christmas morning.
"Xenophobia – that is to be feared. Anti-Semitism – is to be feared. Targeted fear-mongering is to be feared. Abuse of any kind, fanaticism, looking the other way where injustice happens – and much more is simply to be feared," Neymeyr said. "Let us dare to stand up. Do we have the courage to act. Let us not be despondent. So that we can experience that we are not alone. People of good will – there are many of them," the bishop continued. As a Christian, he added with confidence: "Even if it doesn't always look like it, God is with us. We can rely on it."
Bishop Dieser: It becomes more impudent in public debates
Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen warned at Christmas of a threat to democracy. "It is becoming louder and more impudent in public disputes," the bishop criticized at Christmas Mass in Aachen Cathedral. "Presidents and heads of government lie and get away with ever more brazen claims, and that's why they get elected – precisely because they bang on, because they follow through with everything they lied about."
According to the speech manuscript, he also turned against radical forces that profit from political stagnation, as expressed in "the never-ending story of Brexit, the faltering energy transition and the slow exit from coal. These radicals are concerned with abolishing freedom and tightening equality. "They want the new human being who is captured and monitored in a totalitarian ideology and in totalitarian digital surveillance."
The latter referred to the incarnation of God in Jesus, who never used violence, never seized wealth and never exploited people. "This is the real new beginning," bishop says. The Christmas feast says that also man can begin again and again anew.
Bishop Furst: Christmas reminds us to protect God's creation
In his Christmas message, the Catholic Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Gebhard Furst, called for environmental protection and a modest lifestyle. "Is it not our task to change our lifestyle immediately, if we take seriously God's message that God himself becomes part of his creation in his Son Jesus Christ?", asked Furst in the text published on Christmas Eve on the website of the diocese.
Whoever destroys creation tears the "bond of love that God has tied to his creation," the bishop said. God's incarnation is a promise to the whole of creation. Furst also referred to St. Francis of Assisi, who pointed out man's responsibility for plants and animals.
Call for solidarity
The Freiburg archbishop called for solidarity and a shift toward a more environmentally conscious lifestyle Archbishop Stephan Burger to. The overexploitation of nature must come to an end, he said. The fate of innumerable humans, "whether with us in emergency gotten" or in crisis areas world-wide may leave nobody untouched.
An 4.000 refugee children stuck in Greece reminded the Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg. Christians should not sit back and do nothing in the face of such suffering. "Just to say that because others do nothing, we also do nothing, is not Bethlehemkonform."
Also the Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Gorlitz addressed the situation of the children on the island of Lesbos, which at Christmas had sparked a new debate on the reception of refugees. The manger of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem teaches us to see hardship and poverty "and not to look past or over it".
The Bishop Franz Jung of Wurzburg said: "The previous ways of thinking in economics and ecology will not help us if we do not radically renew our thinking."The fight against climate change must be surrounded by a change in faith, he added.
The Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstatt called the feast of the Incarnation of God an enduring call not to shape the world primarily out of human demands and economic needs.
Bishop Stablein of Berlin: Openly approaching the lonely
Berlin's Protestant Bishop Christian Stablein called for confidence and charity at Christmas. In his sermon in Berlin Cathedral on Christmas Eve, Stablein recalled how
many people in childhood days wanted to catch a glimpse of the presents by looking through the keyhole with anticipation. Adults would have similar expectations: Christmas would become "a kind of keyhole onto the big picture". It is associated with hopes, for example, of family cohesion or of not being alone on these days. The "Christmas room" from childhood is emblematic of these desires.
However, not all wishes are fulfilled at Christmas, which is perhaps the first Christmas without the mother or without the partner. Possibly even the son has not come for a long time, said the bishop of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, according to manuscript distributed in advance: "If we could count how many are lonely, but who are
not wanting to be?"This is even more true when we look beyond our own contexts, for example "across the borders, in the fields, in the camps, Greece, refugee children," said Stablein and concluded: "We are making an effort, but paradise is truly not yet here."
Therefore, he said, Christmas is not about "rosy words," but "about what is not yet". Peace should reign everywhere, "as God willed and promised". It is necessary to "openly and warmly welcome" those who are lonely but do not want to be lonely.
Praeses Rekowski: Christmas more than "dose of sentimentality"
Rhineland President Manfred Rekowski called for a sensitive approach to Christmas. "Christmas is much more than the dose of sentimentality that people indulge in every year," he said on Christmas Eve in St. John's Church in Dusseldorf. "Christmas is God's yes to humanity and his no to the destruction of life."
The president of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (EKiR) pointed out that God wanted to be close to people in the past as well as today. "God is there – he is near: with the shepherds in the field, with Mary and Joseph in the stable, but also in a long painful history of illness, in front of the ruins of a life plan, at the graves of our loved ones, in the crisis regions of our world."
Message of other evangelical bishops
North Church Bishop Kristina Kuhnbaum-Schmidt condemned non-action and indifference with regard to climate change. She is also unconcerned about hatred and agitation towards people who are excluded because of their origin, religion, sexuality or political opinion.
Hanover's regional bishop Ralf Meister urged the protection of the environment and paid tribute to the "Fridays for Future" initiative. Never before has the world experienced such a movement of young adults as in the year that is coming to an end. Millions and millions wondered how people should survive in a destroyed creation. "Deep in this question is the question of God," Meister said.
Oldenburg's Protestant Bishop Thomas Adomeit called on Christians in Germany to be guided by the Christmas message "Fear not" in today's problems. Shepherds would also have worried about their daily bread, their animals and peace in the land occupied by strangers.