Christmas messages offer hope in a world of trouble
As we move into 2016, there is a message of reassurance and one of warning from two of the most respected figures in the United Kingdom.
The Queen, who is Head of the Established Church and Defender of the Faith, referred in her Christmas Day broadcast to the "darkness" of many of the events of the past year, and quoted - from the Gospel of St John - one of the most powerful messages in the Bible: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
She continued: "There's an old saying that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today."
Significantly, the Queen's message was watched by 8.3 million people and topped the ratings, ahead of the last sugary episode of Downton Abbey, where everyone seems set to live happily ever after.
In this secular age, in which there is much global darkness, it is encouraging to know that so many people pay attention to our longest-serving British monarch, who has continually emphasised the challenge and reassurance of Christianity, which has been a touchstone of her reign.
On the same day that the Queen's speech was broadcast, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Justin Welby, described the current Islamic jihadists as the modern King Herod and warned that Christianity faces elimination in its birthplace.
He said of the militant Islamists: "Confident that these are the last days, using force and indescribable cruelty, they seem to welcome all opposition, certain in the warfare unleashed that these are indeed the end times.
"They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began."
He continued: "This apocalypse is defined by themselves and heralded only by the angel of death. To all who have been or are being dehumanised by the tyranny of a Herod or an Isis, God's judgement comes as good news, because it promises justice."
Non-believers, as well as many believers, may feel that this "justice" is a long time coming and that we need to gear ourselves up to bear the burden of further Isis savagery before their evil finally destroys itself.
In the meantime, what does this mean for the people of faith, and of no faith, in the Western world, where religion is having such a difficult time?
For a start, it is worth pointing out that the wholesale massacre of Christians in the Middle East receives comparatively little attention or condemnation from Western leaders and opinion formers.
As the Bishop of Leeds Dr Nick Baines has pointed out: "The religiously illiterate Western intelligentsia should condemn the persecution of Christians."
The Churches have many shortcomings, but in this global "holy war" perpetrated by militant Islam, the Christian faith, on which so much of our civilisation is founded, deserves more respect and tolerance than it receives from those Western literati, chatterati, and glitterati who condemn it out of hand.
As The Times notes correctly: "It is integral to the values of this country to stand with the victims of religious intolerance and testify to their heroism in the service of a higher truth than is conceived of by their oppressors."