Notes from the Vicar and Benefice Administrator - December 2019


Mark Chapman writes:

I have just returned from a conference in California and as I was going through Heathrow Christmas it seemed had well and truly begun. Bing Crosby was singing merrily in Terminal 5, and the sparkly trees had appeared in the arrivals hall. Coming through passport control and seeing the staff of Border Force made me think about just how much of our world depends on borders, on barriers between one place and another. Over the past few years I have reflected a lot on borders and boundaries; on things that separate and things that unite. I was only 18 miles from the Mexican Border where one can’t help think about walls.

Christmas is about borders; and about moving across the barriers that separate. At its heart it’s an incredibly simple story: a baby is placed in a manger; soon afterwards he is worshipped by the shepherds who receive news from the angels. For the writers of the Gospels, and especially for St Luke, the point is this: Jesus brings everything in history to a climax. From that helpless baby creation is brought to completion and the world is restored to the way it should be – a new Adam is brought into the world to put to right the errors of the old Adam. At Christmas, Jesus pulled down the barriers between God and human beings and a new way of glimpsing God’s glory was revealed.
And yet the barriers remain. Present-day Bethlehem is a visible reminder of barriers – a huge and impenetrable wall separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem and red signs have been put up by the Israeli Government to warn Israeli drivers against venturing into the West Bank where Bethlehem is located. There’s an ever present sense of fear. In that city where all divisions were overcome once and for all, people are kept apart. A new world dawns at Christmas but still the old world of division continues – and we see it even in the place of Jesus’s birth.
An ancient tradition has it that the manger in Bethlehem was in a cave; and above that cave there stands the oldest church in Christendom, the Church of the Nativity; a church that has survived from the time of St Helena in the fourth century until the present day, against all the odds. The Persians burnt nearly all the churches in the Holy Land when they invaded in 614AD, but they left the Church in Bethlehem because they saw images of the wise men, men of their own kind; and at the end of the same century the Muslims left it standing because they had been allowed to worship in a side chapel. And through the crusades and through the troubled twentieth century the church has continued to stand. That’s a living witness to the hope we see born at Christmas. Hope was born in that cave in Bethlehem – and that same hope has survived through thick and through thin and should be a spur to action to all of us to tear down the mental and physical barriers that separate us from God and from one another. It’s certainly worth putting up with Bing Crosby for that message of God’s hope-filled love for all people.

Happy Christmas!