Sunday, December 9, 2007

Second Sunday in Advent

As everything of this season points to one moment, I can envisage the difficulties encountered by the church fathers in devising a liturgy that looks forwards and backwards simultaneously. Today we were treated to St Luke's grand vision of the coming of God's kingdom but in my personal reflections I prefer to look elsewhere.

For weekly at evensong the pious recite those prophetic words penned by the Evangelist, introduced by a Latin title. The title, the Magnificat, is a reminder that for centuries worshippers intoned these words in sonorous but meaningless Latin and in their ignorance of the classical language were kept in ignorance of the radical power of this prophecy. I wonder whether Cramner in ordering their translation - for I presume it was he - envisaged the upheaval and turmoil that would accompany the masses' discovering that the Messiah was not sent to uphold the established order, the power of kings and nobles, of emperors and empires.

It is equally amazing that words of such power were uttered by a young woman on the brink of motherhood and indeed echoed the equally powerful words of the mother of the last judge, Hannah, centuries earlier.

He hath shewed strength with his arms; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat; and hath exalted the humble and meek.

It is little wonder that Bloody Mary ordered the burning of Cramner and his associates; it is surprising that her mad father did not see the perils they posed, although it may be that as the second generation Tudor he still felt himself to be one of the exalted humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

It may be that even English loses its meaning when repeated and chanted weekly without comprehension. That is why I prefer to consider these words once a year at this season, to remember that the coming of the Son of God brought hope for millions. For too many millions that hope is not realised in this earthly realm but those who conspire to deny this divine hope should consider that they will in time face the judgement of the Almighty.

There were many ways in which the Virgin's words stated a historical reality, anathema to the rulers of her time and to many of those in mine. No human empire or power can sustain itself in eternity and no individual can ensure status and power for their descendants. It is better to walk humbly in service to the Almighty.

I wished that Beaconsfield and those who were seduced by him had acknowledged this principle in their overweening desire to establish our nation at the centre of a mighty empire rather than as part of a family of freely trading nations. Looking back from here I see them all gone, the British Empire, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and at an overwhelming and unutterably awful cost to mankind. I can only rejoice that the legacy of our liberal principles ensured that our own dear Queen's descendants still enjoy a place of some respect in this nation, although I fear her Majesty did not always understand my explanation of these matters.

The rise and fall of democrats need not be as bloody as that of tyrants but it is the beauty of democracy that the humble and meek can be lifted high and that those who aspire to rival the divinity in the attainment of power will of necessity be humbled and that their downfall can be swift and merciful.

It is salutory now to see the heirs of the Labour movement esconced in the palace of Westminster and the corridors of Whitehall. I do not regret our enabling their access to Parliament although I would have wished my party could have met their aspirations and ensured that Mr Marx's wilder ideas stayed locked within his scribblings.

The heirs of the Labour movement may now be at that place of humiliation, having been seduced by the blandishments of power, having succumbed to the attractions of the goddess Nike - repeated victory regardless of principle. It is my fervent hope that my own party may after so long offer the masses an alternative, if temporal, hope of stable, just and far-sighted government but also that, under the leadership of Mr Clegg or Mr Huhne, it may approach this prospect with appropriate humility and a conviction of service to the people.

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