That holy night
The broadcaster Mark Lawson, has written a play that was aired a few days ago on BBC Radio Four. It’s entitled, The Moon That Night, and it’s the story of a well-off English family on their way from their large London house to their Cotswold cottage on 24 December. The couple, along with their teenage children, reflect with pleasure that their local cleaner and “key holder” has promised to turn up the Aga and start the log burner. But when the family finally reach the cottage, after attending a carol service at the local Anglican church, they find that their employee and her teenage son are living in the cottage.
They have lost their own rented home following a “reassessment” of their benefits. Their presence sets the children, who have an instinctive egalitarianism, against their parents, who are more reluctant to let charity really start at home. The local vicar negotiates the situation. She asks the double-home owner: “What is the moral case – in a country of so many homeless – for having two houses?” The character’s answer is that any other system is communism – the fortunate must have the right to spend their money as they wish, providing it’s legitimately earned and taxed. Its also raises other questions, for our politicians to tackle the stark regional and generational inequalities in both the purchase and rental of property; the epidemic of homelessness; and supporting charities who work in these areas.
At the service the family attends, they sing the carol “Good King Wenceslas”, with its challenge to offer hospitality to the “poor man in the snow”. It’s clearly more easily sung than done.
I relate this not to stark a guilt trip for those who own more than one property [to show my cards, apart from the vicarage which we don’t own, we have two properties]. Perhaps the vicar needed reminding that our Archbishop of Canterbury has residences both in that city and in Lambeth. What’s great about the play is that it asks real questions for our real world. And the Christmas story, the person of Jesus, does exactly that.
It’s rather tempting to enjoy the magical sense of this service, in the deep darkness of winter, with the Christmas tree glowing and candles lit, with plans for lovely food and wine tomorrow. And to view the Christmas story as mere superstition, as a magical story for children. A story with no real traction in the real world.
But the Christmas story is far from a mere fairy tale. The birth of the child Jesus, and the story of Jesus’ life, raised real questions. Of living under the foreign occupation of Rome and subjected to a census; of the political concern about power with the jealousy of Herod and of the holy family fleeing to live as refugees in Egypt; the person of Jesus raises questions about anthropology and, for us in a world of Artificial Intelligence, what it means to be human; how we are to flourish as a community.
And yet, Jesus’ birth isn’t primarily an historical event, though it was that. It's a spiritual one. Its importance is not because of what happened 2,000 years ago, but because of what can happen now, for us all. It's about spiritual birth, divine life and knowing the incarnate presence throughout the cosmos – even in the hard, hidden places.
The message of Christmas is that we can awaken to new life. If we have hearts and minds open to receive it, the mystery of Christ can be born within us, much as the child was born in a buried cave. The way he showed is from darkness to light, from obscurity to sight, from death to life. It's true because the divine energy, which early Christians saw in Christ, can be seen filling the entire universe. We can know it, with spiritual sight, today.
Mark Lawson, The Moon That Night, BBC Radio 4
Mark Vernon, ‘Christmas is a spiritual eruption’, 21 Dec 2018