The Queen’s message, broadcast on Christmas Day was viewed by almost 8 million people this year. This meant it topped the Christmas viewing charts.
In recent years, the Queen has been increasingly open about her Christian faith. This quote particularly struck me this year:
“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing.”
I am quite ambivalent about the Royal family so over the years I have not been a committed viewer (apart from when I am at my Mum’s when it is compulsory viewing). So I went back and read her previous Christmas messages over the last 5 years.
Whatever you think about the Royal family, I think we can learn from the way that the Queen speaks about her faith. These are four reasons why I think she offers a model for how Christians should talk about their faith in the public sphere:
1) She speaks personally
“It is my prayer this Christmas Day that Jesus’ example and teaching will continue to bring people together to give the best of themselves in the service of others.” (2012)
“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” (2014)
The Queen is markedly personal in the way she speaks using words like ‘for me’; ‘my life’ and ‘my prayer’. Like all personal testimony, this is powerful and induces respect in those listening. It is in massive contrast to politicians who hedge their bets and talk in bland platitudes about ‘Christian values’.
2) She focuses on the person of Jesus
“This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.” (2012)
“God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general…but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” (2011)
It would be easy for someone in her position to offer a anodyne message about thinking of others and being kind. But the Queen is unabashed about talking directly about the person at the heart of the whole Christmas celebration. And she doesn’t just mention the ‘J’ word – she talks about both the example and achievement of Jesus. In doing so she is sharing orthodox and accessible theology to the widest possible audience.
3) She speaks inclusively
“The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.” (2013)
“Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.” (2014)
The Queen emphasises that God’s love is for all people and that believing in this love should drive us to respect and value everyone, whatever they believe. It is the opposite to the kind of faith which seeks to silence and destroy those who are different.
It resonated with my own experience of meeting the Queen in 1997, when she came to open a new hostel for young homeless people that I was managing. I showed her round and introduced her to all the residents. I had expected it be quite formal and awkward but I remember how adept she was at talking to such a diverse range of people.
4) She speaks about faith in action
“Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.” (2011)
“For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people.” (2013)
Anyone speaking effectively about faith today cannot do so by just speaking about abstract beliefs – they need to make the connection to what faith does. This is why the church’s work in running food banks and night shelters is such a good illustration of what faith is about. The Queen refers to the reconciliation, service and love which flows from Christian commitment. It emphasises that faith must make a difference to how we live – it must be a force which helps us become ‘better people’.
Clarity and confidence
I think I’ll always have misgivings about the inherited wealth, opulence and privilege at the heart of the monarchy – but that’s a post for another time.
What I do respect about the Queen is that she is willing to express her faith with clarity and confidence in the public sphere. Too many Christians do not seem to have the courage, imagination or depth of conviction to do this. In speaking personally, focussing on Jesus, being inclusive and connecting faith to action, I think the Queen offers a model for how Christians should speak about what they believe.
Maybe I’ll ask her to do a guest blog post…