A Monthly Message from our Minister, the Rev Dr Neil Dougall - December 2019
Parents are upset, children are disappointed and teachers are frustrated. School Christmas concerts or nativity plays may have to be cancelled because of the election. Many schools are used as polling stations. Schools made their plans for concerts and nativity plays long ago and many had chosen to have them on December 12. Rearranging these will be difficult and in some cases, impossible. That’s because there are many things to fit in, some staff work part time and music specialists may only be in certain schools on specific days. Maybe there’s a good reason that its 96 years since we last had a General Election in December. Christmas and General Elections don’t mix well. Christmas is a season when normal business is briefly suspended. Christmas is a short window when we escape the harsh realities of life.
Yet, it strikes me, that Jesus, Mary and Joseph would have felt perfectly at home with a General Election at Christmas time. The reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem was that the government of his day decided to conduct a census. Lacking the information systems we have, the only way they could do this accurately was if people returned to the place their family came from. Since they also lacked the cars and buses, the trains and planes we take for granted, that meant long journeys.
If a General Election in December is inconvenient, the Census of the first Christmas created real hardship. Mary, almost nine months pregnant, had to make a journey of about 100 miles. If she wasn’t able to walk, the only option was a donkey. In Bethlehem all the accommodation was spoken for. She ended up sheltering with the animals. That was where she gave birth to Jesus.
Given the choice neither the government nor the opposition parties would have chosen to have a General Election two weeks before Christmas. That they agreed to it is a sign of how gridlocked our political system has become. Across the country people are frustrated. They want Brexit to get sorted. They want government to work. They want all the other important things like health and education to be given the attention they need. We need an election because, quite simply, government is no longer able to work.
Once again I feel certain that Jesus would understand. While Christmas is often portrayed as a cute, cosy tale, the reality was anything but. Within days of being born Jesus was fleeing for his life. Herod, who ruled that part of the world for the Romans, was a despot. Fearing that Jesus was a potential rival he gave orders to have him eliminated. When innocent people flee for their lives from their government it’s a very clear sign that government isn’t working.
Christmas as recounted by the Bible is not an escape from reality. It’s not a fairy tale where everyone lives happily ever after. It is God choosing to come and be part of this messy world of ours. It is God becoming fully human and experiencing the hurt and disappointment that we do. That is why, I for one, think that a General Election two weeks before Christmas is uncannily timely.
To see other messages from Neil, click on the appropriate month in the table below.
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