Monthly Archives: January 2014

A City Set on a Hill

Recently, much of my spare time has been spent driving a thirty mile road to visit and care for one of my grand children. Thirty miles there, and thirty back. It gets tedious doing a regular commute like that (or it does for me anyhow) and I have amused myself by mentally re-naming sections of the road.

Starting from home there is The Track, up which I live and which due to its bumps needs to be driven with exaggerated caution. Then there is The Road to the Village which is well known and a bit tedious. The Moor Road follows and that ends with Dead Pheasant Run, where, for a few weeks in autumn, the new-released game birds enjoy kamikaze games.

Then it is on to the Town, a big village which makes the half way point of the drive. After that comes The Straight, the last chance to overtake a=or be overtaken for a good while. Everybody knows The Straight, and is lined up ready to sort out precedence there. As to whether I am an overtaker or an overtakee depends in large part on how late I am, and if I am stuck behind a gravel lorry or not.

The Straight ends with Death by Drowning. It is a series of ingenious sharp curves just above a loch. Then there is Small Straight where luck once may again favour overtaking. Then there comes the Bends. These would, on a lesser road, be the principle hazard. On this road, they are just Bends.

Another small village, and then the Hairpins. These are actually the nastiest part of the journey, made more hazardous by the fact that, in summer, visitors are taken by surprise by then and find themselves all over the road.

Then comes another Town, with ingenious traffic calming. On occasion this causes an accident and police and horrid diversions. Usually it is simply navigated. Then I move on to the Uphill Straight. That ends as I sweep under the motorway, and a chance to lose cars tailgating me, or cars I yearn to tailgate.

The next stretch of road has the Centrifugal Corner (watch it, or you get swung too far out) and Right of Way bridge. Now the beautiful market town in whose environs my grand son lives has appeared, a City Set on a Hill. I sweep over the beautiful 18c. Bridge, and head up the last stretch to his home.

I am not a natural driver, and it is not my inclination to love driving, but love of my grandchild has somehow hallowed that drive for me.

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Moving to centre stage

Readers of this blog might enjoy my guest post on Thinking Anglicans.

When Jesus was born there was peace. Any recorded disturbance was no more than a half-forgotten slur on his mother, which surprisingly did not result in an ‘honour killing’ but, against the odds, a marriage. Even today, nobody is much threatened by Christmas. Not so much because it is unthreatening, but because its message can be missed so easily, as it is on so many cute Christmas cards, and in so many charming nativity plays.

Epiphany marks the move of that child from the shadows onto the centre stage. His glory begins to be manifest. On Sunday or Monday (depending on the congregation) we will all celebrate that glory. In some countries, for instance Mexico, Epiphany is still the main day of rejoicing and present giving. It makes sense. We are celebrating the moment when people first start to take notice of the child, the moment when somebody who matters in the eyes of the world senses his glory and begins to feel after who he is. It is no coincidence that at that very moment, when we first celebrate the glory of Christ openly, the trouble starts. Because at all times and in all places Christ is a threat to the established order.

The values of Epiphany are the values of the Magnificat, and, come to that, the values most consistently stressed in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament: justice for the poor, joy for the sorrowing, and repentance for the rich.

Some aspects of this challenge to the established order are easier for our world to swallow than others. It is politically expedient at the moment in our country to blame the ills of society on the poor, the sick, and the stranger. These are the very categories of person in whom, according to St Matthew, we meet Christ in all his glory. Those with the courage to point out that the blame does not lie where it is apportioned are (now as then) vilified. Christians singing hymns, or practising personal pieties, are welcome to their private devotions. Christians speaking openly about the growing numbers unable to feed themselves in one of the richest countries in the world? Not so much. It is inconvenient to direct attention to the truth that, so far from being work-shy loungers, many of the poor are in jobs, often the jobs others would not wish to undertake.

Many leap with delight on the idea of sending the rich empty away, and small blame to them. Only, this has never been a popular message to those in power — and in our age that includes the media. They may admire Pope Francis hugging those with disabilities, but they only admire the rest of his message if they can imagine it directed to countries far away.

The Epiphany gospel is drawn from Matthew, and a part of it is the idea of strangers coming to worship the Christ. Matthew will take up that idea later, where the suggestion is that when we invite in the stranger, we invite Christ himself, and all that is good with him. Today it seems strangers are only welcome when they are neither Romanian nor Bulgarian — oh, and as long as they are not also sick, because then we will only help if they can pay.

The work of Epiphany is to bring the private moments of Christmas into the public area. It is our work. The song which Mary sings to Elizabeth must now be sung out loud for all the world to hear, even when it tries to stop its ears. If the glory of Christ is to be seen and his values are to shine out, each of us must sing that song, and loudly, too.

Balthazar

This is a seasonal re-posting of part of a longer sequence I wrote for another blog where I contribute.

To arrive at the court of another man, to arrive without status, and unheralded and unexpected, was a strange thing. Also I had no contacts there. There could be no casual words in quiet corners over cups of wine which told much to the speakers and little to the eavesdroppers. No, different skills were needed.

In truth, my foot was hardly set down the first corridor before I saw fear everywhere. Not the usual level of anxiety. Faces sealed shut, eyes everywhere. This was not what I had expected. I had expected joy, for normally a King rejoices in the birth of a clear heir.

Of course I understood this people might not be able to read the skies as clearly as I could. I understood they might not see the importance of this child. It had not occurred to me that they might not know of him at all.

Audience (never had I used audacity and authority so compellingly). An old man crumbling before me – no, not the right image. Eaten as a parasite eats out a caterpillar. Dear knows if the real Herod was the parasite, or the caterpillar. Evil and power both taken to extremes. My own recoil in horror, from something too like the image of what I might, just possibly, become if my very worst instincts were fed and flattered.

Then, council taken with Karima and Melchior. She had seen the death, he the ignorance. Did I mention that? Herod’s total ignorance of all that is real wisdom? As well as his ignorance of any child. In the end, his councillors plucked up the courage to tell us that if the child were born it might well be in Bethlehem, a small village well within the allowed margin of error we had plotted. Prophecy, they said, and precedent, their greatest king ever having been born there.

But I could have wished we had not aroused further fear in that terrible, terrified evil old king.