From Paddington to Kings Cross ~ Christmas Eve Sermon 2014
Have you seen the new film of Paddington Bear? It took half a century to make I reckon, but I’m delighted. I was brought up on Paddington Bear, and he was the best marketing tool for British Rail they could have wished for. Although everyone rather conveniently overlooked the fact that he travelled without a ticket, got lost, didn’t have a passport, only had a marmalade sandwich to sustain him, and being from darkest Peru, was, of course, an illegal immigrant.
And he had a label, didn’t he: “Please look after this bear”.
Someone cared I suppose – His Aunt Lucy back in darkest Peru I daresay.
Like many people in the third world today, she secured a passage for her relative, trafficked him to the UK, where he found himself homeless at a major London Terminus.
He was lucky, of course.
The other day I met a young lady at Kings Cross Station – please don’t misunderstand me! – she approached another priest and I, and said she was desperate for accommodation for the night – please continue to not misunderstand me – and that it cost £19 to stay in the hostel round the corner. She seemed genuine, spoke well and was clean and didn’t smell of drugs or drink. I gave her twenty quid. And she seemed immensely grateful, and of course, surprised and she treated me as though I had saved her life. Perhaps I had. Or perhaps I was well and truly diddled. Who cares? It’s only twenty quid.
Now then, it doesn’t matter what you think about whether I should have given away twenty quid to a stranger at Kings Cross at 11 o’clock at night or not. I don’t even know whether I should have done or not. What is interesting – to me at any rate – is the interweaving of fiction and reality, truth and falsehood, action and inaction with which we are surrounded. Paddington Bear can turn up unannounced at a major London station and, because he’s cute and cuddly, and, of course, fictional, he can meet new friends who adopt him and give and receive love thereafter. That is not everyone else’s experience of course. 2000 years ago a family turned up announced in a busy town and were directed to a filthy stable….
In this juxtaposition of children’s story, Bible story and recent event is a twofold truth.
Firstly, the truth is that this is how we should behave if faced with someone in need, homeless, hungry, abandoned, naked, sad, sick, bereaved. We are called to minister to such people, to help them, to give them support, time, and money. It’s what we ought to do. And of course, many of us do that, personally, corporately.
Obviously it matters what we give, but on another plane, it doesn’t – it is the giving that counts. At Christmas, when someone gives us another pair of red and green socks, we sometimes smile and say ‘it’s the thought that counts’. That may be so, but in real life, it’s not the thought that counts – it’s the deed. Thinking about giving never put clothes on anyone’s back. It won’t even yield a marmalade sandwich. So we ought to give - we just should.
Secondly, the truthful fiction of Paddington Bear reveals that not only should we be generous, we want to be. There is something deep down in us that is loving and generous. Many people go on these days about our animal nature, that we are in fact not unlike bears and monkeys, self-centred, competitive, violent, tribal, and so forth. And there is plenty of evidence to support this claim, for when we see some of the barbaric things that humanity does to itself, to each other, we can truly despair of our condition and of our behaviour that is sometimes nothing short of evil. But that is what Christmas is essentially about - Jesus was born at Christmas - to deal with our sinful nature at Easter.
Yet rarely do we hear of humanity’s capacity to do good, to help each other, to care, to love, to heal, to try to make a better world. Many, many people are engaged in that kind of activity, and it is so often unsung, unheralded. Yet it is actually the human default – and if our news is full of the bad stuff it is because it is the exception. There are more good people out there than evils ones – many, many more. Mothers loving their children, neighbours looking after each other, people giving to the Foodbank and other charities, these are the things we do. It’s in our nature. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. For there are some who have been blinded by the strangely popular idea that humanity, especially other people whom we don’t know, are detestable. It is a secular agenda that is invidious, dishonest and inhumane.
Lest we forget, we should remind ourselves of our ability and nature to do and be good to others. We should allow our inherently good-natured selves, not only capable of love, generosity and fellowship, but, actually, made to be this way, to be this way. Humanity is not inherently selfish, we are inherently generous. We probably wouldn’t still exist if we weren’t!
Nevertheless, our wrong choices end up hurting others, ourselves and God. We then have the choice to say sorry too.
The first to apologise is the bravest.
The first to forgive is the strongest.
The first to forget is the happiest.
Don't let unresolved hurts of the past ruin a yet unlived future. Live and love in the Christmas present.
For it is Christmas that brings all this to the fore. The ‘season of goodwill’, many call it. I’m not sure why we have to have a ‘season’ of goodwill, goodwill isn’t just for Christmas, it is for life. Like a dog – a dog isn’t just for Christmas, but for life. Sorry, did I say, ‘dog’? I meant God, of course. A God is not just for Christmas, but for life – eternal life.
The reason we are inherently generous is because we are made in the image of God. No other creature is generous like we are. No other creature has the ingenuity to be caring, reflective or helpful. What other creature defends the weak and helps the powerless? What other creature cares two hoots about any other species? Not owls for sure!
God, as Christmas shows and tells, is all about giving.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given”.
It’s not just the thought that counts, but the deed. For God is the giver and the gift, all bundled in one. That bundle of joy given at Christmas, the Baby Jesus – the cute present is not just for Christmas, but for life: Eternal life. Christ, the gift of God who is God, the present that is presence, the bear-er of sins - not just of Paddington Station, but of the whole world. And what begins at Paddington, ends at Kings Cross. The Cross of Christ our new-born King.
Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.
So it is to God to whom we give thanks and praise, at Christmas and always.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 24/12/14