Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pulling the crowds at Christmas

We had a good day yesterday. Carol services, it seems, still draw people in our predominantly secular society. Both ours yesterday were pretty full so we probably had in excess of 500 people through our doors over the day.

Lots of these were family of committed members, many of whom join us every year. Perhaps they come more out of family loyalty than any interest in the Christian Christmas story. But might it also be that there is a residual feeling in broad sections of the wider community that the Christmas story says something important? This is not to say that large swathes of the population are closet believers, just that this story of the baby, the family, the strange array of visitors, the fragility and wonder of it all, resonates with people in a way that other parts of the Christian message don't.

I guess churches up and down the land will be pulling in the crowds over the course of this week - especially the cathedrals. So my prayer is that some of these folk see something new in this familiar story.

Two other things caught my eye. One was a report - sponsored by St Helen's Bishopgate, I think - that suggested fewer people than ever knew what the Christmas story says. This could be true given the nonsense on this morning's Today Programme featuring a BBC reporter trying to get a donkey to travel the journey Mary and Joseph made. Just where in the gospels is there a reference to a donkey being involved at all? How on earth could a poor carpenter afford the transport of the aristocracy? And given everything else that's going on in this part of the world at the moment, how does this constitute news?

The other was that I got a Christmas card from an Imam in London wishing me a merry Christmas and pointing out that the Christmas story appears in the Koran and that 1.5 billion Muslims around the world believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles, ascension and second coming to rule in peace and justice to establish submission to the one true God. Interestingly, there is no reference to the cross and resurrection without which Christmas is just an amazing story that leads to nothing much in particular.

This week I shall be mostly preparing for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas. What is so amazing is that even after so many years and even having to think of so many angles on this familiar story each year, I still haven't come close to exhausting the wonder of it.

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