Now playing: Dear Mr President – Pink
Blessed art thou,
O Christmas Christ,
that thy cradle was so low
poorest and simplest of earthly folk,
could yet kneel beside it,
and look level-eyed into the face of God. (Anon)
From a story told by a colleague working with churches in Latin America. One farmer said: ‘A single star for the well born and wealthy wise men compared with a whole host of glorious singing angels on the hillside to warm and welcome the poor and scruffy shepherds. That’s how we know how much God loves the poor. He gives them his very best.’
Written on 24th December 1974 by Oscar Romero: ‘No-one can celebrate Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who have no need even of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God with us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.’
Seen for the first time 24th December 1968 from Apollo 8 as the spacecraft looked for possible future landing sites, and giving us something to marvel at, and something to worry about. ‘The most important environmental picture ever taken.’
Now playing Barry Louis Polisar: All I Want
From a longer letter on how Bethlehem is today, posted here.
The narrative of the Nativity has a universal resonance. It has proved the inspiration for great art. There are few people, whatever their age or status in life, immune to the story of a family, living in an occupied land, rejected by the powerful, ultimately finding sanctuary among the lowliest, and, through the birth of their child, opening a path of hope for the future. However, as a Jewish dissident, I find the silence of the majority of Christians about the situation in ‘The Little Town of Bethlehem’, particularly at Christmas, difficult to fathom.
In many ways the Israeli occupier is worse than the Romans. At least the wise men could reach the child. Today they would be turned back. No family would be able to get into the town without passing guards, checkpoints and walls.
Currently listening to Sarah McLachlan Song for a Winter’s Night
A Christmas Creed
I believe in Jesus Christ and in the beauty of the gospel begun in Bethlehem.
I believe in the one whose spirit glorified a little town: and whose spirit still brings music to people all over the world, in towns large and small.
I believe in the one for whom the crowded inn could find no room, and I confess that me heart still has insufficient room for all that He wants to do in my life today.
I believe in the one who the rulers of the earth ignored and the proud could never understand; whose life was among commoners, whose welcome came from the people of hungry hearts.
I beleive in the one who proclaimed the love of God to be invincible.
I believe in the one whose cradle was a mother’s arms, whose modest home in Nazareth had love for its only wealth, who looked at people and made them see what God’s love saw in them, who by love brought sinners back to purity, and lifted human weakness to meet the strength of God.
I confess my ever-lasting need of God: the need of forgiveness for our selfishness and greed, the need of new life for empty souls, the need of love for hearts grown cold.
I believe in God who gives the best of himself.
I believe in Jesus, the son of the living God, born in Bethlehem for me and for the world.
Said together in our church this Christmas.
Currently listening to Kate Rusby: Who Knows Where the Time Goes
Two children are now SATs free. This is for them.
Easter was early this year and a busy time and there was no space to post very much at all.
This was one of of how Calvary might look from that high up and fitted with the reflection we did on Good Friday on the cross. (Both the high up and the lowdown at the same time.)
I wrote one on the perspective of the centurion and afterwards was asked to pass it on. So here it is.
Jesus and the centurion. The centurion remembers.
What kind of death was this?
Killing can be an art. The empire has worked hard to perfect an artful way of executing its enemies. Crucifixion. It is public, humiliating, degrading and efficient – the dying even carry the means of their death to the place of their execution. The Roman Empire reserves crucifixion for those it wants to make a particular example of. Roman citizens are not crucified. It is kept as the special preserve of the defeated, the occupied and the crushed – for those who are not Romans; for those who are not one of us.
Crucifixion works. It makes a spectacle out of the enemy. It is a deterrent. It is an entertainment. It is a humiliating way to die. It shows total defeat and reminds everyone who’s in charge, that Caesar is lord. It has served the Roman empire well.
What kind of man then was this?
Jesus – King of the Jews they called him. He wasn’t the first to die this way, and he wouldn’t be the last. But his dying was different. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, awe-inspiring death.
It wasn’t the look of him that made a difference. There was nothing attractive in the way he looked. He was bloody, bruised, beaten – more than either of the two hanging at each side. Might is right in the empire. No favour is shown to those on the receiving end of Roman power. We crushed him. We caused him to suffer. People turned away at the sight of him. We despised him – a piece of bloodied meat stretched out upon a spit; a cross of shame. We thought he was a worm, not a man. He was forsaken; ratted on, spat upon. We mocked and hurled insults at him.
There was nothing to attract us to him. We wondered what all the fuss was about. He’d been pushed around all night and all morning. Pushed from priest to procurator, to the puppet Herod, and then back again. None of these authorities ever miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
There was talk of a Jewish plot, talk of a Roman plot – all of it finishing up on this plot. This plot of land – a scrubby piece of wasteland with a cross outside the city among the criminals. People said in life this Jesus had friends in low places. In his life, so in his death.
What kind of death then was his?
Crucifixion crushes the spirit as well as the organs and the bones. Criminals, enemies and terrorists die this death with terrible cries and oaths, calling down curses on themselves and others. Yet this man Jesus did not rain down on those who were watching curses and oaths or screams and moans of self-pity and hatred. He didn’t say much of anything. Yet his words in life had stirred such passion and anger. For that alone they had accused and arrested him. Yet at his trial he hadn’t said anything. Despite oppression and affliction he had been silent. He, who was so good with words, had been silent before his accusers.
And on the cross as he was dying, instead of cursing us for killing him, he broke his silence with something else. Forgiveness. ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,’
Crucifixion takes the breath away. It costs so much to keep breathing. The spine is crushed, the lungs collapsed, screaming pressure exerted on the tendons and nerves in the wrists and arches of the feet where the nails go through. It costs so much to take even one more breath. Yet this man Jesus, in his dying, used those breaths to speak forgiveness, to offer paradise to a thief, to speak blessing not cursing to those around his cross. And with the last breath he gave himself to his God, the God he called father.
And as he breathed his last, he took our breath away too. His death was breath taking. His death was utterly different. In pain and anguish his death was not never just about him, but about us. He was a man of righteousness; a man who in his death could breathe life into us. A man who held nothing back from us, even in death. His death was breath taking and life giving, and that has made all the difference.
And later I came across these thoughts on Good Friday here.
The day was Friday.
But it was quite unlike any other day.
It was a day when men went very grievously astray, so far astray in fact that they involved themselves in the utmost iniquity. Evil overwhelmed them and they were blind to the truth, though it was as clear as the morning sky. Yet for all that they were people of religion and character and the most careful of men about following the right. They were endeared to the good and none were given to profounder meditation. They were of all people most meticulous, tenderly affected towards their nation and their fatherland, sincere in their religious practice and characterized by fervour, courage and integrity. Yet this thorough competence in their religion did not save them from wrongdoing, nor immunize their minds from error. Their sincerity did not guide them to the good. They were a people who took counsel among themselves, yet their counsels led them astray. Their Roman overlords, too, were masters of law and order, yet these proved their undoing. The people of Jerusalem were caught that day in a vortex of seducing factors and, taken unawares amid them, they faltered. Lacking sound and valid criteria of action, they foundered utterly, as if they had been a people with neither reason nor religion.
They considered that reason and religion alike laid upon them obligations that transcended the dictates of conscience. They did not realize that when men suffer the loss of conscience there is nothing that can replace it. For human conscience is a torch of the light of God, and without it there is no guidance for mankind. When humanity has no conscience to guide, every virtue collapses, every good turns to evil and all intelligence is crazed.
On that day men willed to murder their conscience and that decision constitutes the supreme tragedy of humanity. The events of that day do not simply belong to the annals of early centuries. They are disasters renewed daily in the life of every individual. Men to the end of time will be contemporaries of that memorable day, perpetually in danger of the same sin and wrongdoing into which the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell. The same darkness will be theirs until they are resolute not to transgress the bounds of conscience.
Egypt: a Muslim reflects on the meaning of the crucifixion.
from “A Procession of Prayers : Meditations and Prayers from around the World” edited by John Carden; Cassell 1998
Freaky economics. Go watch.
One quote from the post-war restructuring of the US economy and the need for a new way of consuming:
Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.
Victor Lebow 1955