Fight or Flight?

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.

A Multicultural Christmas? – it’s nothing new!

It is said that this country is only nominally Christian and that there are places in the UK where Christianity is a minority religion.  Of course Christianity has been a minority religion in other countries since the time of Christ.  Neither is the recent persecution of Christians anything new, though the portrayal in news items is somewhat different.  For us, here in the UK, should we be concerned about our eastern neighbours and the so called rise of Islam?  Firstly I think we can say that any life taken in the name of religion is one too many.  Christianity has its share of bloody histories, ours are not clean hands.  We as Christians are not known for our good treatment of our neighbours.  As Gandhi said:  “An eye for an eye makes us both blind”  Gandhi – a Buddhist proclaimed himself as a follower of Jesus.

So what about our Christmas that seems to be so under threat in this country?  The question is of course, from where does our Christmas celebration arise?  The pagan midwinter festival on 21st coincides with the celebration of Christmas and coincidentally (or not) includes feasting.  The twelve days of Christmas which to Christians signify the journey of the Magi, happily coincides with the twelve day pagan festival.  Candles feature heavily in the Jewish midwinter festival of Hanukkah a festival celebrating renewal of faith and commemorating the rededication of the temple.  The Roman festival Saturnalia also featured many candles.  It was the Victorians who resurrected Christmas and kept the bits they liked, ditched the bits they didn’t.  We end up singing strange Christmas Carols which we don’t quite understand any more.  Christmas always was a multicultural festival.  Christians alone cannot make claim to it.  Not even to the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Take the old Mhugal Mosque in Fatehpur Sikri.  On the gateway is inscribed the following:

Jesus, Son of Mary on whom be peace said:  “The world is a bridge.  Pass over it, but build no houses upon it.  He who hopes for a day may hope for eternity but the world endures but an hour.  Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen.

Why on the main Mosque should there be a quotation from Jesus – not perhaps one we are familiar with from our western scriptures – but attributed nonetheless to Jesus, Son of Mary.  Jesus is important to Muslims too.  There is a wealth of sayings about Jesus in Islamic writings which have been lost to western Christianity.  Indeed Mary is revered in Islamic scriptures.  Rather than fearing the idea of a multicultural Christmas, it is one time of the year that Muslims and Christians can truly come together and pray with each other celebrating the birth of Jesus and working towards a future which is built upon understanding and peace rather than hate and mistrust.  The gift of Christmas is the Christ Child, a gift we must share.

Beit Lahem – The House of Bread

Midnight Mass 2013:  Beit Lahem – The House of Bread.

beit lahemIt’s not Christmas without the ‘Christmas Special’.  Call me old and past it if you like, but – they don’t make them like the used to!  Except perhaps for Dr. Who and we’ll have to wait till the evening of Christmas Day for that.  The timeless episode of Fr. Ted springs to mind where the Priests out Christmas shopping inadvertently run into the largest lingerie department in the country – apparently.  Complete with unwanted Christmas guests and an award or two.  Of course the Jewel in the crown of Christmas specials in my opinion dates from Boxing Day 1977, the last but one aired episode of The Good Life.

Christmas – according to Margo came in a van – but owing to the fact that the tree delivered was 6 1/4 inches too short meant that the whole delivery was sent back.  Christmas – come the day itself has not been delivered, at least not at the Leadbetters.  With Jerry down with a dose of political chicken pox Jerry and Margo accept the invitation to Tom and Barbara’s for the day.  Typically, the Good’s Christmas is simple, yet simply the best they have ever had, especially with the absence of Mrs Dooms-Patterson on the social horizon.  For Jerry and Margo, Tom and Barbara’s Christmas was a Beit Lahem – a house of bread.  A place of hospitality and welcome, where one was able to let one’s hair down, even if chased into it by Tom with Mistletoe!  Bread is a symbol of hospitality.  We break bread and share a cup of wine this night.  It makes sense this night of all nights as a symbol of the Hospitality of God come to earth in the form of a child.

Terry Pratchet wrote in the Hogfather on Hope.  Whilst Death, (impersonating the Hogfather to keep belief alive) is giving children what they want for Hogswatch, (similar to our Christmas) Albert (David Jason) impersonating an elf suggests that you shouldn’t give children what they ask for because then there is nothing to hope for.  If all your hopes are realised in one day, then there is nothing to hope for tomorrow.  Bread today fills today’s hungry bellies.  But bread promised for tomorrow, now you can sell that forever. Death disagrees and fills the child’s stocking.

The hope for the future that is promised at Christmas in the God-child is a hope for a brighter future – one based upon the kingdom that Jesus taught of and lived out in his own life.  Jesus taught to live each day as it comes.  If we live according to his kingdom, bread everyday can be a reality.  That’s something worth hoping for, especially with the growing poverty here in the UK.  At the end of the film Hogfather we see Terry Pratchet the author in a cameo role as the toymaker selling Death the carved wooden horse that Albert hoped for all his life.  Hope for tomorrow means little and leaves us empty without bread for today.  As you leave tonight you’ll be offered a spiced sweet bread.  Bread for the journey, for today.  Full of eastern promise for tomorrow.  (checks watch) Merry Christmas.