I wonder how comfortable we are? I’m not referring to the need to loosen the belt a little after Christmas lunch. Or the uncomfortable feeling that we might have forgotten to send a card to someone important this year, or even the uncomfortable job of writing thank-you letters.
How comfortable are we sat here in this church building this Christmas? Chances are we might be relatively comfortable, after all it is familiar surroundings for the majority of us. That might of course depend if we’re sat on the pew with the fur lined runner or in the draft I suppose.
Our buildings become comfortable, comforting. Tidings of Comfort and Joy? And not only in the physical sense. And why not? Is it not the job of the ‘Church’ to comfort the people of God in times of hardship and struggle?
I’m not comfortable in church buildings, neither should I be for the work of the ‘Church’ generally speaking lies outside these walls. The exile of the congregation in Greenfield was a most interesting time. When the church building was physically unusable it became apparent very quickly that there was a longing to return, to be comforted by familiar surroundings, or course only the shell and a few other items were left following the complete re-ordering.
It is not easy to be exiled, but perhaps sometimes it is important. For survival sometimes we must let go and leave things behind.
There is an uneasiness to Christmas that makes me want to not be in a church building. Sooner or later most stories end up being about bloodshed. And as much as we try with candles, straw, decorations to make it a happy joyful time, there is no escaping the harsh reality that the story of the birth of Jesus ends up being about blood. Whether we focus on the end of the story, the crucifixion, or the end of the beginning, the flight into Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents. It ends up being about blood. Ever since, every chapter of the history of Christianity has blood on its hands. Brothers and Sisters around the world are running for their lives as Christians are targeted and persecuted for their belief. And today we remember the exile of Jesus into Egypt and the slaughter of children that followed. There is nothing comforting about those things, except that Jesus survived, lived and shared with us the Kingdom of God. We need to be uncomfortable, disturbed, with itchy feet, ready to move on, to be moved on. If you read the history books of the Old Testament you will find it is a story of Exile and Restoration. Largely of the People of Israel to the Land and their temple. You’ll find that the exile, though it was a harsh time, gave the people of Israel a new life. When they were exiled to live in Babylon they had an identity to preserve. They were different people because of the experience. They learned to protest with their identity. They became “The People of the Book” That was one of the marks of the Welsh Chapel, the non-conformists, the annibynwyr, independents and of course the foundation of Protest-ant-ism itself was something which acted against the comfortable. Christianity was originally “The Way” Christians, “The People of the Way”. The Iona Community to which I belong is a protest movement, to cajole, to challenge and to disturb. When we are faced with our history, with the atrocities meted out in the name of Christ, even the slaughter by Herod of those children, when the pew makes our back ache, or when the heating doesn’t quite meet our expectations of comfort we remember the exile and that it is good to be disturbed, moved. For out of it, if we open ourselves it it, will come life, restoration and resurrection.