Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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Sing, pray and be of good cheer

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THE Feast of Christ the King today heralds one of the strangest Advents amidst the confusion of our times. Advent starts on November 29 but already children and adults are alarmed at talk of plans to cancel Christmas. Never mind 12 days, we’ll be lucky to be allowed out for five. Christ the King? Does his writ still run?

If Christmas goes ahead at all, we are told, it will be in an ever-decreasing circle of bubbles and tiers. The Wise Men will not be allowed to travel, and shepherds will be subject to spot fines. The inns are all closed and as for flying to Egypt, not from Heathrow you won’t.

In deciding whether to ban Christmas celebrations, Boris Johnson faces the biggest test yet of his misappropriated authority. Who believes a politician should tell us whether or not we can celebrate Christmas? Hard-won historic rights governing religion, assembly and free speech will come sharply into focus this Advent. For the Kingdom we serve is not of this world. Our King is not a bauble-lauded legend but a real person, living, breathing, pulsing flesh and blood. A baby born in Bethlehem, a man crucified for our sins, our God and our King who rose again on the third day.

Whatever the tortured rationale of Boris Johnson and his depressing crew of lovers and losers, the anniversary of Christ’s birth remains our light and our hope. The wise among us will obey the law, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. The wiser still will not be fazed by the claptrap emanating from Downing Street.

Praise and jubilation are the hallmarks of our faith. This Christmas will be no exception. St Paul said, ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ Mercifully we will be spared the horrendous tradition of The Office Party. No mistletoe and no risk of snogging the IT manager’s wife. The retail blow-out will be subdued. The endless partying and dyspepsia may well cease. Advent is actually supposed to be a fast. Forget about five days, we are required by ecclesiastical tradition to celebrate Christmas for 12 days. This covers New Year’s Eve – or does Johnson want to ban Hogmanay as well? Parties of how many? What about the eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming? Santa Claus may have to make do with just five reindeer and no elves. Deliveries may be affected in your area.

It is not for the doomsayers of Downing Street to come between us and the two thousand and twentieth anniversary of the birth of Christ. At the centre of this our darkest winter stands the figure of Jesus. Descended from the royal line of David, his birth and resurrection were prophesied hundreds of years before he was born. Perhaps our leaders think the whole story was dreamt up by imaginative monks. Think again.

Contemporary Roman writers of the time, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Josephus, make mention of Jesus Christ. Unwittingly they underscore the progress made by the early church. ‘Christus had been executed when Tiberius was Emperor by order of the procurator, Pontius Pilate,’ Tacitus records in his Annnals XV.44 around 115 AD. At the same time Pliny the Younger was sent to run Bythnia, a province on the south coast of the Black Sea. Pliny wrote letters to the emperor Trajan. In one he bellyaches about Christians. At their meetings they recite ‘a hymn to Christ as to a god’. Pliny thought the solution was to kill them. We’re still here. Jerusalem-born Josephus, a Roman historian, goes even further. ‘Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man,’ he writes, ‘if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day . . . ’

Analysis of early New Testament writing shows us the gospels and epistles themselves were written quite soon after the events they describe. Make no mistake about it, the earthly life of Jesus Christ remains one of the best attested stories of all time. 

Beset by so-called plague and the politics of violence, it is not only Christmas that may be cancelled. To profess faith in Jesus of Nazareth is to invite derision, social ostracism and, in many countries, imprisonment and death. Yet Christ remains our King and it is on him, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we focus. Shortly before his ascension into heaven, Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been vested in me.’ Of the limits of his Kingdom there is no end. Instead of worry and anxiety let us celebrate our faith as never before. Celebrate as an act of protest. Sing, pray, be of good cheer. Under St Peter we remain the rock on which Christ built his church. The powers of Hades shall not prevail against us. Messrs Johnson, Hancock et al please note: ‘The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’ 

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John Musgrave
John Musgrave is a writer living in the West Country. His book Soldiers of the Heart is published by Border Tales and available on Amazon.

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