Published on Sun, 1 Dec 2019 08:00

(Mike's article published in the village magazines)


The Quaker poet U. A. Fanthorpe would write a new Christmas poem each year to send to her friends. My favourite is called BC:AD and it captures something of the moment when everything changed:

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers
And three members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

I love the idea that this was the moment, the birth of this child was (though unknown at the time) the moment that future peoples would identify as the moment from which the years would be counted.

In Fanthorpe’s account this was an otherwise dull moment in history. Nothing really happened; the pax Romana ensured a dull kind of peace, a general absence of conflict, the peace represented by an elderly relative dozing on the sofa after a Christmas dinner. And all of this takes place in a “remote province”, not in the centres of power; it’s not a promising start.

The poem leads us gently through an otherwise boring time and place in history until we are hit straight between the eyes by the final lines. This was the moment when some unimportant labourers and a group of eccentric travellers (who follows a star?!) suddenly found themselves at the centre of the greatest story ever told.

Without intending it, or knowing what was happening, those shepherds and wise men found themselves witnesses to the birth of a child. And yet at the same time they had walked “haphazard by starlight straight into the kingdom of heaven”. This captures the amazing paradox of the total ordinariness of the Christmas story which is, at the same time, the birth of the kingdom of heaven on earth and the transformative idea that God was born among us.

And the wonderful thing is that people ever since have had the same experience. In encountering the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, people still find themselves unexpectedly walking straight into God’s very presence.

And so, I wish you all a very happy Christmas season. Perhaps, amidst all of the joy and festivity you too might find yourself suddenly transported straight into the kingdom of heaven. It might happen at a party, sat at home in front of the TV, in a carol service, or while walking the dog. Will you notice? I wonder how you respond.

As always, you are warmly welcome to join us at an event or service over the coming weeks. Details of dozens of Christmas things across the Huntingdon area are all available at www.huntingdonchristmas.org.uk – check it out!

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