Sunday, December 16, 2007

Third Sunday in Advent

I note the nation has been exercised by the reputed loss of the Nativity Play, which, it appears, has been performed in schools for many years. This play, it seems, enables children to act out in simple form the wonderful story of the birth of Our Lord and is frequently performed in schools funded by local education boards.

It is delightful to hear that schools for so long have exercised their responsibilities in Christian education so faithfully. When we gave the task of developing public education to locally elected boards, it was by no means apparent what routes they would take and choices they would make in respect of religion but it seemed right to use that the people should make these choices for themselves. I can only observe now that these Nativity Plays have had little impact in stemming the growing tide of irreligion that has engulfed this nation, except inasmuch as they have enshrined the place of the Christmas festivities in its heart. I can only think how much joy it would have brought to our dear Queen to know that her own special season continues to be marked so well and, indeed, in my walks around our towns and cities I am astounded by the spectacle that erupts from even the humblest abode, a blaze of coloured lights, sparkling stars and shining images.

Indeed it seems that the nation clings almost child-like to the vision of a joyous Christmas introduced by the beloved Albert and enhanced by the incisive writings of Mr Dickens. At worship today, I noted that scant reference was made to the process of Advent and the prescribed reading, which draws attention to the herald of our Lord, John the Baptist. Instead there was a rush to begin the singing of the carols, including that wonderful song of Father Mohre, Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Yet it is stated that for all the lavishness of celebration, the British people are in growing ignorance of the Christmas story and the significance of the birth of Our Lord. One almost sympathises with the Lord Protector Cromwell who ordered the English to devote their time to worship rather than festivity at Christmas time. For in spite of the gifts of the Magi, the first Christmas was not a time of great festivity but rather an occasion when God himself was born in discomfort, in surroundings of oppression, fear and poverty.

But, in truth, it is not the place of the public authorities to order the people to worship. True worship comes when one contemplates the divinity of the Christ-child and the marvel that here was God incarnate, born in a stable. It is little wonder our children are confused when the Christ is presented to them as a factory-made doll, rather than He who conquered the powers of death and brought freedom to the nations.

I would expand on this important matter but yet again I am castigated by a preacher of religion for alleged verbosity. In my opinion, there are not enough words in the whole universe to encapsulate this greatest moment in history but doubtless modern preachers have their restless audience to consider.

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