Ros and I have made it to London (haven’t run into Janet T. yet) After two days in the car, it was time to just walk. We passed by St. James church in Piccadilly. Always a lot going on at St James, their Christmas stalls in their courtyard in front now starting to take shape. But what caught my attention was a large banner boldly displaying the message,sjp.org.uk). As we strolled further amidst the pre-Christmas city bustle (then today sitting down to my “two minutes” update of ‘Our next service’..), this flip of an old phrase of street-evangelism started to work in my mind: What other “flips”, what other inversions of what-one-might-expect, are to be seen in the appearance of Jesus in the world, and what is the meaning of these for us?
Last Sunday we celebrated the culmination of our cycle of retelling the Christian story, in the theme of Christ the King. In the ages of successive ancient empires leading to complete domination of the known world under Roman rule, the coming Messiah would be imagined to be surely a great and powerful King, ready to match and exceed any worldly power. But the Gospel of St. Luke tells of the birth of the Christ in a lowly shed, after a long journey compelled by Imperial decree, and of Mary finally laying her baby in an animal feeding trough. Not exactly the palatial trappings expected.
In the original sandwich-board slogan, the imperative that accompanies “The End is Nigh” is “Repent!” — i.e. an action in which the onus is on us to prepare ourselves. But St. Matthew clarifies what actually happened in Bethlehem, using the word “Emmanuel” — God with us. It is the pure will of God, and not anything we ourselves initiate—perhaps the supreme aspect of God’s grace to humankind, that a newborn babe later growing to full adulthood should be the reconciliation of all people to Himself. And our repentance therefore active acknowledgement of God’s re- creation here.
Here are tidings of gospel, of street- and pulpit-evangelism, headlines of good—Great–news indeed. But in our current era of ‘fake news’, how do we verify the truth of Jesus’ birth for us, as the advent of our salvation? How do I verify that truth for myself? A third unique “flip” was the immediate public recognition of the signal meaning of this birth at Bethlehem. Our modern age values celebrity, fame. But of course famous people only become such at some stage during their life, when they’ve done something that grabs much attention. When David Bowie recently died, this was marked around the world. But his birth in Brixton 70 years prior was celebrated only by his own immediate family– no one else knew what was to come (in honesty, neither would his family at the time). Even the “hereditary privileged” or dynastic additions must prove themselves worthy of the mantle of historical note of birth (else suffer consignment to humble parish records, like everyone else). But again both Matthew and Luke make it very clear that Jesus’ birth was recognised and attended by both “common” people, the shepherds, as well as whom we might call “uncommon” visitors, the Magi, who saw and followed a celestial sign of this birth. It was even noted someone had appeared somewhere in the Empire, a challenge to Roman indomitability. Presumably none of these seekers would be aware of the lengthy genealogical tracing of Jesus which Matthew provides: but both meek and mighty, in today’s world seemingly sorely divided, were in full agreement about this Infant King, in the words of several carols — Christ the King, even lying in a manger. And let’s not forget also angelic appearances and “a multitude of the heavenly host” proclaiming: God with mankind. Jesus was, uniquely, a celebrity at his birth!
But the Christ-celebration itself has a flip: unlike other bandwagons it does not pass: ‘The beginning IS nigh’ — present tense, in the 21st century; ‘God with us’– tenseless. John’s gospel might leave the particulars of Jesus’ birth to the other evangelists, as he instead echoes the word “beginning”, harking back to Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word”, the Greek “logos”– the means by which we understand our existence and reason in this world, indeed the reason for all the world. The glorious poetics of the opening of John’s gospel amply express the universality, the truth and the very beauty of the divine babe’s appearance in His world.
A sign in the city street: The Beginning, not the end, is Nigh. What truly wonderful news! > > > The peace of the Christ babe to all at Zagreb Chapliancy and St Marys Belgrade this Advent and Christmas season < < <
— Cliff Stark —
30 Nov. 2018
|An angelic presence in London’s Regent Street|
(not my photo, unfortunately—but the angels are definitely proclaiming there…)