December 2021 - Rector's Rambling

Last weekend I found myself watching episode two of the documentary series, ‘Blair and Brown: the New Labour Revolution’.  The series is fascinating throughout; and the central story of episode 2 concerned Tony Blair arriving in Northern Ireland in April 1998 with the high ambition of brokering a peace agreement between republicans and loyalists.   His interview amused me greatly.   As he looked to camera, he confided: “A day like today is not a day for sound bites, really.”  Then, to my chortled laughter he seemed to fly in the face of what he had just spoken, by continuing: “I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders.  I really do.”   There was barely a pause between the two sentences.

Well, that was a sound bite par excellence.  And it left his background staff reeling in disbelief: “did I really hear that?” If the critical public was amused, amazingly Mr Blair’s words were borne out by the unlikely events that followed shortly in the hard won, and so-called, ‘Good Friday Agreement’.  This time the sound bite was indeed a taste of what was served up.

‘Sound bite’ is a phrase originating in the 1970s in the broadcast media of the United States.   It means a short phrase with a power to encapsulate the heart of what is going on and perhaps to provide a motivational or persuasive rallying-point.

We recognise the superficial attractiveness of such phrases, but also their danger: if they are to carry too much weight in themselves, they may become a hostage to fortune.   Yes, Tony Blair’s words could have been seen as pompous and wildly misjudged if things had not worked out over the three days ahead of him.  History gave him a helping hand!

A church very near to us, here, has offered us a sound bite in their seasonal banner which urges us to remember:  “Christmas begins with ‘Christ’.”
Indisputable as a lesson in spelling; accurate as a recording of history; this provocative phrase nevertheless cleverly invites the reader to recognise what others have called ‘the reason for the season’.   The phrase presents the stunningly obvious; yet, as an invitation.

Christmas is the best of times; a beautiful time … of merriment and satisfaction, companionship and delight, kindness and affection; past and future meeting in a shared moment.   It is treasured by so many of us, and rightly so.  There is no one correct way of ‘doing it’; there will be a thousand ways of doing Christmas in Westbourne this year.   And, of course, not least this year, it can be poignant; as well as celebratory.

I dearly hope, though, that the Christ  -  the ‘Christ-child’  -  finds acknowledgment in whatever gathering takes place.    Call it Winterval; call it Happy Holidays; call it Yuletide: that is in your gift.   Can it really be Christmas, if he is disregarded?   At the very least, Christmas begins in him.

There are many ways to live out the specialness of these seasonal days.  I wish you joy, and peace, and love, in doing so.    I wish you comfort, when that is needed deeply; and happiness, when that has been in short supply.

And I encourage you, make room for the Christ-child.   Let him come, dwell, in our midst again.   Welcome him.

For Christmas … begins with Christ.

Andrew Doye

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