May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“He’s behind you.” Oh no he isn’t! Oh yes he is! The villan of the piece is always behind you. Here we are in the midst of what would have been Panto season, it’s Christmas Day and the only day off the performers would usually get. What would your favourite be. The Sleeping Beauty is my favorite and I love the Ballet too. This story has been around in various forms since the mid- forteenth century.
We have a royal baby, with doting parents who put on a lavish party to celebrate the princess’s birth. Seven Good Faires are invited and of course they each bring a gift.
But a very old fairy, who was thought to have died, came unannounced. She didn’t get the welcome she deserved and got very angry at being treated as an uninvited guest. When the time came for giving the presents, six of the fairies gathered around the crib, they offered beauty, wit, grace, dance, song and goodness.
Step forward the old and angry fairy, she ranted that the child would prick her finger and die. All went quiet, the assembly were in shock, until the smallest Good fairy stepped forward. She didn’t have the power to cancel the wicked gift, only to mediate it saying the child would not die but fall asleep for 100 years and be woken by the kiss of a hansom prince. But you probably all knew that and what happened in the rest of the story.
In no way to pre-empt Epiphany and the Maji’s gifts I would like to share a poem with you I found recently. It is by Ursula Fanthorpe, she had been writing poems to send to friends in her Christmas cards. It’s called “The Wicked Fairy at the Manger” and comes with a warning.
My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort —
The workshy, women, wogs,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.
Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.
This was the gift God was prepared to give us, the most costly gift of all, his own son.
I make no apology for using the word ‘WOG’ in reading this poem, it is offensive, and Ursula Fanthorpe meant it to be. It’s there to shock us into the reality of what the Holy Family were to experience, all that was rife in the world then and now. Gender, racial and social prejudice, and disadvantage, were all included within the account of this amazing birth that would turn the world on its head.
Yes it makes us uncomfortable because it also reminds us that before long the Holy trio would have to flee for their lives, become refugees, and this may well have prepared the Child Jesus for his ‘ministry and care’ of the outcast and unclean in society then and now.
Two years ago Gordon shared with us Mary’s response to the Angel’s message of ‘good news’, a response that reverberates down the millenia, do we accept God’s plan for us, with that same level of trust?
As they travelled to Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary had a secret. A secret shared only with Mary’s cousin Elizabeth. Mary was carrying within her the child of God, and as yet they had no idea what would lie ahead.
Like us, perhaps they wrestled with questions. Could they really believe it and what would other people make of it? But all that would have to wait because the birth was immanent and Mary needed shelter to deliver the child. It was clean and dry but not like home. Mary swaddled her baby and laid him in the hay whilst she rested.
Meanwhile shepherds were working out in the local fields; they shared small caves with their sheep to keep warm during the night and because they needed a good bath, they were considered the lowest of the low, and ritually unclean. Yet it was to them that God’s Angel brought the ‘good news’, the long awaited Messiah had been born in Bethlehem just as the prophets foretold.
The Angel Gabriel’s message proclaimed the gospel of ‘Good News’ through the story of the lowly and unclean. The little baby boy, born in Bethlehem to unmarried parents, wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in an animal food trough, this was the one Jewish people had been expecting for centuries?
If ever a people needed a saviour, a symbol of unity and peace it was the Jews. Wanting his readers to know just how significant was the birth of this baby boy, in a little backwater of the Roman Empire, the headline was the ‘good news’ that Israel had waited for centuries to hear. Good news too for the early Christian church and if we learn to understand it better the Christmas story becomes ‘good news’ for us too.
The baby Jesus, was not a saviour born into an Emperor’s palace like Augustus, or a messiah who would raise an army to defeat Rome in battle like King David, but a saviour non the less. He would turn the current world view on its head and continues to do so in this and every age.
Jesus, the Son of God, is a symbol of unity and peace, destroying the division between God and his people; Jesus was born to heal the rift between God and humanity, now that really is good news.
The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” After all the bad news this year, where is the ‘Good News’ for me, you might ask? We have a deep sense of distrust for the media and frankly the future still looks more than a little grim for some of us, and it may help if we were to find that dark cloud’s silver lining by looking again into the Christmas story, discover what Christmas is about, and the difference Jesus makes for you and for me. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear we will see the light of hope.
Usually at this time of year Nativity plays are performed across the world, in many forms and languages, by young and old alike; we need to remember they are not pantomimes. Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians can see the shadow of the ‘Wicked Fairy” in the backdrop. As Ursula Fanthorpe wrote: “Right, said the baby. That was roughly what we had in mind.”
It was God’s plan that Jesus came as a human baby, born to draw us back to the Father, that we might have the ‘good news’ too! Love, Peace, Hope, Joy and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit; we are to share God’s gift of love for us because Jesus is our best Christmas present ever.
This year and every year, if we listen, we too can hear the Angel saying …
“I bring you good news of great joy for all the people:” A saviour is born, who is the Messiah. May we in our hearts and mind go to Bethlehem and see anew what has happened, and because Jesus would rejoice, let us remember all those who need his love.
Finally just to leave you with Ms Fanthorpe’s Reindeer Report:-
Chimneys: colder. Fightpaths: busier. Driver: Christmas (Father) still baffled by post codes. Children: more and stay up later. Presents: heavier. Pay: frozen. Mission: in spite of this Accomplished – Merry Christmas!
The Rev'd Maureen Lunn, 25/12/2020