To our local nine lessons and carols yesterday evening, where my daughter was serving. For the uninitiated, this involves processing up the church before the priest, carrying a candle or large crucifix and then standing at the priest's elbow while he mutters special magical words and incantations. For most of the year, I attend church on Sundays and view this whole performance as something which might be found in a textbook on anthropology. The Shaman summons down the dead God and invites the tribe to feats on his body and so take on the attributes of the God themselves. Viewed objectively in this way, it is a fascinating ritual. A couple of times a year though, I wonder if there might perhaps be more to the business than meets the eye. I am reminded of John Betjeman's poem Christmas;
"And is it true? And is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained glass window's hue,
A Baby in an Ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?"
Sometimes, the whole story of the Gospels seems less like a mythological account, embellished over the centuries until you can hardly make out the original text, and more like a straightforward, historical narrative.
The things that happen in the Gospels are very odd, it is true, but the people in the stories see them as being odd and react much as we would ourselves. In Greek mythology, we encounter minotaurs and various other fairytale monsters and nobody in the stories bats an eyelid. They inhabit a fantasy world where such things are taken for granted. It is clear that this is pure myth. It is quite different in the Gospels. The things that happen there are just that little bit beyond believing and the characters see that they are witnessing something strange. A virgin becomes pregnant and her boyfriend reacts by deciding to wriggle out of the engagement without causing her too much embarrassment . These are real people, dealing with real, if extraordinary, events.
Anyway, I shall probably be posting less frequently over the next few days, as I descend into a frenzy of churchgoing and celebration. I hope that everybody who visits here has a good Christmas.