Nativity – He Qi

He Qi is a Chinese artist who spent the years of the Cultural Revolution painting pictures of Mao Tse Tung in the day time as an alternative to forced labour, and in the evening painting pictures of the Madonna inspired by his fascination with Raphael’s Madonna and Child.

He Qi’s Nativity is typical of his work in terms of colour and vibrancy. His painting resembles stained glass and always feel they have an element of fun. In this picture you can see the sheep virtually dancing in response to the angels. Listening is an important element of this piece. Of course, the sheep stand for all those who know the Lord as their shepherd.

The light in this Nativity comes from heaven and is far more intense than the light any of us can hold. The light Joseph holds is dim compared to the light that Mary holds. – but then Joseph is fading from the picture with his work well and faithfully done.

Mary is pictured in the pink. Normally Mary is dressed in blue, but here He Qi picks up pink as a symbol of marriage and shows Mary as the archetype of the church who holds and treasures Jesus. Jesus is offering a red apple to Mary and the church. This is a reference to the Garden of Eden signifying Jesus as a new Adam and Mary and the church as a new Eve. This is new creation.

The apple is blood red to indicate the nature of God’s offering. Is there also an ambiguity in the shape of the apple? Is it also heart shaped to indicate that this is the new heart promised by God to his disheartened people (Ezekiel 36)?

This is the Nativity. Christus natus est. This is Christmas. Happy Christmas.

A Pearl from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statue is one of ten to modern martyrs, unveiled in July 1998, which stand above the west entrance to Westminster Abbey. The sculptor was Tim Crawley.

On this day, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred – aged 39. His life, teaching and death are constant reminders of the cost of discipleship and the need for political engagement. Here is one of his pearls:

God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof.

Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it.

Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in.

He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Opening the community chest

la vagabondeuse

I love that tweet @la_vagabondeuse and know the feeling of opening up a box of treasures. There are so many jewels out there. Of course, this has more to do with la_vagabondeuse’s willingness to open her ears and heart to others. Twitter is just the means to that end – one of many social media and other means.

I spent an hour and a half reading through my Twitter feed this morning. Call it a birthday indulgence if you like, but I know it is something I should be doing more of (listening, that is). There are whole boxes of treasure and so many jewels. Here’s some of what dazzled me this morning:

  • John Sutherland’s robust response @policecommander to Daily Mail’s lazy front page report on the nation being hooked on happy pills
  • the recall by Michelle Eyre @MichelleDEyre of the 9th day of Christmas, her true love’s gift of “nine ladies dancing” and her thanksgiving for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • some lines from Hafiz relayed by Ramblings @ramblingsloa: “Ever since happiness heard your name, it’s been running through the streets trying to find you.”
  • a beautiful image of Naomi and Ruth shared by Jacqueline Durban @radicalhoneybee together with a simply three word sentence: “Love made rock”
  • a 50 second video @HSBC_UK with hashtag #togetherwethrive shared by Michael Sadgrove @sadgrovem in praise of the word “together” in the spirit of Bonhoeffer

I do realise that Twitter is a preserve of the chattering classes, but it is one way of listening to others. We can choose our newsfeed and who we listen to. I choose the twitterati who have their ear to the ground, the ones who are sensitive to the rumblings of down to earth living (over, for example, the Daily Mail and its presumption of daily fail). And I discover, through that listening, the huge amount of treasure in the community chest – treasure graphically portrayed in another tweet from Paul Wright @LeanLeft_Wright this morning.ABCD

This shows the energy bubbling under the surface of community making the point that community develops through the appreciation of its members. You have to live there to know that. It is about opening our ears to hear the voices of others, and opening our hearts to the passion of others and celebrating the community bounty – the treasures and jewels of the community chest, just like la vagabondeuse is trying to do. This is loving the voice of our neighbour and discovering our commonwealth. Put technically this is “asset based community development”. But for those who live there, it is simply the love that makes the rock on which community builds (to paraphrase @radicalhoneybee).

Reflecting All The Light We Cannot See

Light
Light
The visible reminder of Invisible Light.
T. S. Eliot

all_the_light_we_cannot_see_doerr_novel

What was intended to be a summer read turned out to be an early winter read – very appropriately because this is a book about light and darkness, perfect for Advent and the darkest time of the year. In All the Light We Cannot See we see the world through the hands of a blind woman, Marie-Laure. As a child she is given a model of her world which helps her to feel her way in spite of all the light she cannot see. In telling her story, Anthony Doerr, is putting a model into our hands to remind us how complex life is and to help us discover the light that can be hidden in the smallest detail.

Anthony Doerr has spun for us a hopeful story that is full of humanity. Besides the blind girl, there is an orphaned German boy who becomes a radio technician. The setting is the Second World War which so divided and devastated Europe. Their lives don’t cross till later but Doerr skillfully weaves their stories together in brief alternating chapters.

With the rise of populist politics as expressed in the Brexit referendum and elsewhere, it seems that we are again in a dark age (and the book is a startling reminder of the institutions that have grown up in post-war Europe which so far have preserved peace – it would be stupid and careless if this were to be unpicked). There is a lot of darkness as we don’t know where we are heading. There is a lot of light that we cannot see as we turn ourselves inwards.

There is so much light we cannot see – from the past and into the future. But in the hands of a blind girl the author has placed a model which can help us through to the light we cannot see. The model maker is her father – significantly a locksmith. I say significantly because of these lines by poet Malcolm Guite in response to one of the Advent antiphons:

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

Julia McGuinness has also written about this book. She captures the ideas of light within limited spaces which is so much part of this story set in the extremes of human existence.

Part of my work is to support newly ordained clergy. One of the cheesy things I do is write to those who have been recently ordained, just before Christmas. I say something like:

Happy first Christmas to you as a “priest”. I hope you enjoy your first Christmas celebrations. It is a wonderful moment – embracing strangers/visitors. One of the ideas that came to me (when I was struggling to find yet another homily in a busy Christmas season) was a play with the word “manger”. Pronounced the French way it’s about eating. Pronounced the Christmas way it’s where Jesus is born. Do we prepare a manger with the hands we offer for the bread? Is this when Jesus is born? As we place the bread in the hands of others, are we laying Jesus in their manger?

When we take the bread into our hands, into the manger we prepare, we take all the light we cannot see. This is the body of Christ, the light of the world. This is the faith we have as Christians, a faith that in the darkest times there is all the light we cannot see. The light that shines in the darkness, makes a difference as to how we recognise one another, how we see one another, how we see our past, how we see our future – as not so dark as maybe we once thought. This too, like Marie-Laure’s model, is something so small that is placed into our hands, to help us discover the light that can be hidden in the smallest detail, in places we would never look into because of their depth of darkness.

Besides preparing a manger with our hands, we often put our hands together to pray (like a candle flame), and we often close our eyes (as if a reminder of the darkness). There are all sorts of reasons for these customs – but in our heart of hearts we know that there is all the light that shines in darkness. By praying we witness to the true light that gives light to everyone.

At the end of his magnificent novel, Doerr imagines:

People walk the paths of the gardens below, and the wind sings anthems in the hedges, and the big old cedars at the entrance to the maze creak. Marie-Laure imagines the electro-magnetic waves travelling into and out of Michael’s (game) machine, bending around them, just as Etienne used to describe, except now a thousand times more criss cross the air than when he lived – maybe a million times more. Torrents of text conversations, tides of cell conversations, of television programmes, of emails, vast networks of fibre and wire interlaced above and beneath the city, passing through buildings, arcing between Metro tunnels, between antennas atop buildings, from transmitters with cellular transmitters in them, commercials … flashing into space and back to earth again, I’m gong to be late and maybe we should get reservations? and ten thousand I miss yours, fifty thousand I love yours, hate mail and appointment reminders and market updates, jewelry ads, coffee ads, furniture ads flying invisibly over the warrens of Paris, over the battlefields and tombs’ over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the charred and ever-shifting landscapes we call nations.

And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about faded but audible if you listen closely enough? They flow above the chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the encore of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.

I am imagining it. I am imagining the map Doerr has drawn of some of the light we cannot see. 

I can’t wait to read this again.

Opening Advent Doors

advent-door

Advent is a time for praying for the coming of Emmanuel, that God may be with us, and for each of the evenings of the week before Christmas there is an “O” antiphon. Each of the seven antiphons is prefaced by “O” and addressed to the Messiah according to the names for him found in Isaiah. The “O” expresses our longing. The seven antiphons are addressed to Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King and Emmanuel.

Doors are very much a theme of Advent. Doors are both barriers and openings. We open a “door” a day on our Advent calendar to signify our willingness to open our hearts to the coming of Christ. Many decorate their front doors in a way that invites the stranger, in a way that begs to be opened (as in the door of one of our neighbours pictured above). Some doors are hard to shift and many are locked behind them.

Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful poem in response to the O Clavis antiphon (based on Isaiah 22:22):

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

This is Malcolm’s response (which is set in a beautiful image by Linda Richardson):

Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

The poem senses despair but also senses freedom, if only we could find “the key  I threw away”, that “turned and over turned with certain touch and … opened my darkness to the light of day”. I love the sense of freedom because “every lock must answer to its key” and “each dark clasp … must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard”.

There are so many locks to spring. Back in the 14th century, Hafiz wrote about the sort of people who lock others up, and the sort of people who work in the darkness to set people free. They “drop keys all night long”:

The small person
builds cages for everyone
he
sees.

Instead, the sage,
who needs to duck his head,
when the moon is low
can be found dropping keys, all night long
for the beautiful
rowdy,
prisoners.

What are the cages, catches, vices, locks and blocks that bind us? What needs to be undone for peace to be declared on earth?

You may be interested in the Jesus Doors by Cheshire artist Ali Hutchison and the Advent Haikus Jim Bridgman has written for every day of Advent as part of his blog which is Really Nothing but which is in fact, quite something. You might also be interested in The Advent Door by Jan Richardson.

A resolution: notes for a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Christmas

Notes for a sermon for January 5th 2014 at St Alban’s, OffertonJohn 1:1-18

Note: this is the first time some of the congregation will have seen each other this new year.
Ask about resolutions made? (And broken) Find some out.
And ask for people to pray for each other that they might keep their resolve.

Mine is to “notice more” and to “welcome each day”.

It’s never too late to make a resolution.
We don’t reserve resolutions for New Year’s Eve do we?
Making resolutions is an everyday activity. Each year has its critical moments during which we make resolutions. (And we should be helping each other to keep those resolutions for as long as they need to be kept).

I have been wondering what a congregational resolution might look like.

Many of our resolutions are money oriented aren’t they, like “making ends meet”. I am sure that many of you make such resolutions, and I am sure that many of your PCC resolutions are along those lines. You might also have resolutions in place regarding your GAP goals. And you need to help each other to keep those resolutions.

I am wondering whether we would like to make a fresh resolution in the light of this morning’s gospel. The resolution is “let’s see”. Can I explain?

John’s gospel begins in a way that none of the others do.

John doesn’t introduce the themes of his gospel with reference to the nativity of Jesus. Instead, John sets the scene (no pun) by referring to darkness and light.
His point is that the world and our times are overwhelmed in darkness and that Jesus is the light that shines in that darkness.
The light helps us to see even when we are living through dark times.
That’s how John sets the scene for his gospel.
The darkness is so dark that some can’t even see the darkness.
God causes his light to shine in that darkness. That’s the good news.

Having introduced that theme John then goes on to provide examples of specific instances when the light did shine in the darkness, when people saw and realised, when the penny dropped.

That’s why I suggest that a good resolution for you as a congregation is “LET’S SEE” – and I hope that you will pray for one another that you may keep that resolution and that you may help one another to see.

John’s gospel is littered with invitations to come and see.

He said to two of John the Baptist’s disciples, “Come and see”.
You can almost hear them talking to one another, “shall we?”, “shalln’t we?” finally resolving “yes, let’s see.” (1:39)

Philip found Nathanael and urged him to “come and see”.
“Come and see what we have found”. He had found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth”. (1:46)

And then there was the woman Jesus met at the well at Samaria. She went to the city and called out “come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And they left the city with the resolution to go and see. (4:29)

The disciples that Jesus loves (the beloved disciples), according to John, are the ones who accept the invitation – the ones who come to see him as the light, the resurrection and the life.

Our gospel for this morning mentions “seeing”, or, “not seeing” – because of the darkness.

 The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld/seen his glory. (1:14)

 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (1:18)

 No one had seen God. But Jesus has made him known. We can see God in and through Jesus because he is the very image of God – he is the spit of his father. In Jesus we have the opportunity to see God.

Do you fancy making a resolution this morning to go alongside those others you have made in your lives?
Do you want to see?
In dark times in your relationships, in dark times in your work, in dark times in your families, in dark times in your faith, in dark times as a congregation, in dark times in your health, do you want to see?
At times when you feel trapped, do you want to see a way forward?

We try to cover our darkness don’t we?
We make up a face that hides the cracks.
We give the impression that we know where we’re going.
We smile and present a brave face to the world.
We hide our dark thoughts.
We pretend we are all sunshine and light.

But this does not help us to SEE. We hide our darkness by using artificial light.

If we hide our darkness, if we pretend everything is hunky-dory we are not going to see the true light which God causes to shine among us, through Jesus, through his saints and through one another.
(If we think everything is hunky-dory, we see nothing. We are blind fools).
We have to be honest about our dark times and our dark thoughts.

A lady I know, Jan Richardson, has recently lost her husband.
He died after what should have been fairly routine surgery at the beginning of December.
She is an artist who keeps a blog called the Painted Prayerbook.
Most weeks she produces an image to accompany the Sunday readings and writes a blessing which she posts on her blog.

I’m going to read her latest blessing, written for Epiphany, written in the light (or, rather, the darkness) of her husband’s death, and written in the light of herself being blessed through those who shared their darkness “by entering into days of waiting and nights of long vigil.” It begins with the words that reflect that darkness. “This blessing hardly knows what to say …” It is called:

This Brightness That You Bear
A Blessing for My Family

This blessing
hardly knows what to say,
speechless as it is
not simply
from grief
but from the gratitude
that has come with it—

the thankfulness that sits
among the sorrow
and can barely begin
to tell you
what it means
not to be alone.

This blessing
knows the distances
you crossed
in person
in prayer
to enter into
days of waiting,
nights of long vigil.

It knows the paths
you traveled
to be here
in the dark.

Even in the shadows
this blessing
sees more than it can say
and has simply
come to show you
the light
that you have given

not to return it
to you
not to reflect it
back to you
but only to ask you
to open your eyes
and see
the grace of it,
the gift that shinesin this brightness
that you bear.

Let’s see.

Is that a resolution you want to make in the light of John’s gospel and in the light of Jesus?
Is that something you want to help others do?
Is that something you want to resolve to do as a church and congregation?
Is this a blessing you want to bear in your lives for those who share the darkness with us?

Shall we help one another to see? Is that a resolution worth keeping?

A word in edgeways

blogging

I was blogging, then I wasn’t. Then Euan Semple reminded me of the importance of sharing thoughts and opinions in his book Organisations don’t tweet, people do. He asks: “how does the world ever change except by people sharing their opinions?”

I was preoccupied with business, forgetting that my business is sharing ideas.  My responsibility is to support the (professional) development of ministers, and my mind had flitted from one frame of mind to another – from the frame of mind in which there is organic development through community sharing to the less productive frame of mind governed by the metaphor of the machine. It’s working our way out of one skin into another.

I belong to an organisation that, rightly, takes itself seriously. It cares about risk and dangers – among them the risks involved in social media. Organisations don’t tweet, people do is a powerful argument for overcoming the fear of engagement with social media. One of those reasons is to make the virtual space of the web inhabitable for our children. “If we leave it to the gunslingers and the pornographers it will stay uninhabitable” writes Euan Semple. He continues, “If we want to make it habitable we have to make it so by being in there behaving in productive and positive ways and showing that it can be a tool for good.”

And so it is. I wasn’t blogging, but now I am.

The strapline to the Prologue to John’s Gospel could be “a Word in Edgeways” as John describes Jesus as God’s word “that became flesh and dwelt among us”. It’s important that we get our word in edgeways in as many ways and spaces as possible. None of this is new. Getting our word in edgeways has been a responsibility since we began to use language. Responsible citizens have been using it ever since to name names, to make sense, to work things out, to share opinions and to make peace (and their opposites). There is now a new space for exploration which is the virtual space of the worldwide web. How can we live well there?

The image is from John Sutton’s photostream
Euan Semple’s blog

A Thrill of Hope: Carols of Resistance

Richard Beck refers to the two carols, It came upon the midnight clear  and O Holy Night as “resistance literature”. The subversive words tend to get buried under the sentimentality that is so often Christmas, but they spell out the redemptive good news of the Christmas gospel. Both were written in the late 1840’s. It came upon the midnight clear is based on a poem written by Edmund Sears in 1849. O Holy Night was composed by Adolphe Adam two years earlier than that.  This was at a time of great turbulence. The American Civil War was not far away, and slaves were on their way to emancipation. (The Emancipation Proclamation was in 1863). It is easy to get carried away by a good tune and miss the political and redemptive meaning of both these lovely carols, and the Christmas story.

So we sing from It came upon the midnight clear:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
the world has suffered long;
beneath the angel-strain have rolled
two thousand years of wrong;
and man at war with man, hears not
the love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
and hear the angels sing.

In O Holy Night we sing:

Truly he taught us to love one another;
his law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break for the slave is our bother;
and in his name shall all oppression shall cease.

Richard Beck points out that the theme of emancipation is even stronger in the original French poem, where those four lines are rendered:

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron has chained.

The theme of redemption is the essential Good News of Christmas. Hope and longing constitute the spirit of Christmas which promises a world turned upside down: where freedom is proclaimed to prisoners, the blind recover their sight, and the oppressed go free. It is such a subversive message that gets shrouded in sentimentality. We get carried away by a good tune. Do we know that they are redemption songs?

Landlords from hell

The Nativity by Korean artist Woonbo Kim Ki-chang
raises question of “where was Jesus born?”

Coronation Street has a story line about the politics of casting for the local Nativity. (Hopefully Simon will get the role of the innkeeper). The innkeeper is always cast in a good light. He is the one who found room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem when everyone else was shouting “there isn’t any room”. For Mary and Joseph this innkeeper is the landlord from heaven. For us, he is one who found room for Jesus.
I suspect that many greet a roof and bed with a sigh of relief, particularly after long travels, or through being made homeless, or through economic migration. Mary and Joseph would be no exception. Often the shine soon rubs off as they realise that they are trapped by landlords from hell.
This week’s Channel 4 documentary Landlords from Hell highlights the shameful conditions many people have to live with. Good housing seems essential for good mental health and physical wellbeing, and it is such a shame that those who are most vulnerable in our society, and have such little control over their living conditions, are subjected to really squalid shelter. I know how much I value my home and how important it is that it is comfortable, clean and reasonably orderly. That means that I have a place to relax and recover. That would seem to be a basic human right. The programme is part of a Channel 4 campaign to expose the Great British Property Scandal. Shelter’s Chief Executive, Campbell Robb writes:

Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact these landlords have on peoples’ lives as families remain trapped in homes that cause misery, and, in some cases, put lives at risk. What’s more, we believe thousands more families could suffer as changes in the Localism Act will see councils placing more vulnerable homeless households in private rented housing.

Beulah House Hotel featured in Landlords from Hell
(Beulah comes from a Hebrew verb meaning to own– ironic!)

Jon Snow was the presenter of the Channel 4 documentary. Before his career as a journalist Jon Snow worked for New Horizon Youth Centre, a day centre for homeless young people in central London (with which he has remained involved since). At a time when we are so hacked off with journalists and the abuse of their power, Jon Snow’s example is a refreshing reminder of what good journalism is and what good journalism can do to bring to the light of day those things hidden in darkness. He confronted some of the guilty landlords with the grim realities of his findings, and hopefully they will take steps to put things right. I hope they will do that without recriminations, though I fear for those whose landlord threatens his tenants with the baseball bat.

9822_lores.jpg
bedbug from hell (photo by liz.novack)

I wonder how good the landlord in Bethlehem actually was. We aren’t told how much he charged for the room. We aren’t told whether he moved another family in after Mary and Joseph had shown him the potential for letting the room out. And it did have a misleading Michelin star over the door. I suspect that it is more helpful to be shown the rooms in the Apollo Guest House and the Beulah House Hotel (featured in Landlords from Hell) as the place of our Saviour’s birth. After all, they are the places for those for whom there is no room – bed bugs and all.

Friend Karin – @KarinLyle1 wanted to comment to this post with photos – couldn’t, so I add her comments as a PS and with thanks.
Just wanted to reply to your “Landlords from Hell”  Blog with two pictures of “Hospitality from Heaven”. Neither image does justice to the ‘peace’ and  the ‘fragrance’ in these two pictures, nor to the graciousness of the hosts.
If only we could offer a welcome like this to the weary and outcast in our society.
Love Karin
 The Fruits of Sandra’s Garden
Bedroom view from St. Beuno’s

Twelfth Night Tense

 

Twelfth Night brings the Christmas tree, decorations and cards down, and the world seems to breathe a sigh of relief as life gets back to normal.  But let’s not be too hasty about dis-carding Christmas. Christmas isn’t just for retailers. Christmas is a revelation of our darkness, the depth of winter and the coldness of our hearts. Christmas presents us with guiding light, the promise of peace to thaw our bitterness and hearts that jump from fear to joy.

One last look at the Christmas tree celebrates an evergreen love of the three tenses captured by Dickens in the Christmas Carol. The light of God shone in the darkness (Genesis 1:3) long before there were sun, stars and moon. The light shone and shines in the darkness as our Lord is come. And before too long – just when the time is right – there will be no more darkness or night (Rev. 22:5).

Borg & Crossan, in their book, First Christmas, project a political context for the first Christmas. The darkness was the tyranny of empire with the background being “the day the Romans came” raping and killing in the villages around Sepphoris, including Nazareth. The light has not overcome the darkness. Borg and Crossan rightly point out that empire still exercises its dark powers “to shape the world as the empire sees fit”, achieving peace through war, violence, injustice and oppression. Christmas has its future in shalom – peace through justice, love – and US, because in the words of Augustine: “God without us will not; we without God cannot.”

Here is what Borg and Crossan write as they imagine Mary taking Jesus to the top of the Nazareth ridge:

“We knew they were coming”, Mary said, “but your father had not come home. So we waited after the others were gone. Then we heard the nose, and the earth trembled a little. We did too, but your father had still not come home. Finally we saw the dust and we had to flee, but your father never came home. I brought you up here today so you will always remember the day we lost him and what little else we had. We lived, yes, but with these questions. Why did God not defend those who defended God? Where was God that day the Romans came?” (p.78)