To the modern ear, grown cold by constant draughts of scepticism, the reading of the Christmas story can sound increasingly unreal. “This is how he came to be born. His mother Mary was bethrothed to Joseph but before they came to live together she was found to be with child … an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream … do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.” This is a story of faith, intended to proclaim the coming of God into the world. The details are simply given without qualification. They are a statement of faith. They will hardly convince anyone not touched by faith.
The event and all that followed acted as leaven in subsequent history. Society progressed as a result of the inspiration of the message. Not just Christian knowledge but all knowledge in the West was in the hands of the Christian Church. The names, which remain today, of the ancient colleges of Oxford and Cambridge – Corpus Christi, Christ Church, Jesus, Magdalen, etc., – witness to this. The learning was then taken up by others, many of whom cut their links with the ancient faith though they built on the foundations she had laid.
It all reminds me of the story I heard from a Burkinabe priest about a hunt. The word went round the village that game was sighted and the hunters gathered. The people followed hoping for a share in the meat. The hunt was long and gradually some fell back and went home. Others kept going but they lost sight of the quarry. Still they knew the direction because others were on ahead and they followed them. Those in the lead had their eyes on the game and kept going till they made their kill.
It is a striking parable for it neatly describes the Church today. Her task is to keep going, her eyes on the prey. Many may fall away but many will like the direction even if they are no longer hunters. Their lives will be touched by the direction in that they will be people of compassion and reconciliation. They will burn with a desire for justice and will risk their lives rescuing others from danger. They may not acknowledge they are doing these things because Jesus did them first and taught us the way. But in a way that does not matter. They like the direction we are going and that is enough.
They are drawn in the right direction by the child born in Bethlehem even if they do not know it and might be offended if they are told so. But for them to have a sense of the direction there is need for the hunters, the ones, who say they are Christians to have their eye constantly on the one who went on ahead. Whether ignored or loved, this is the task of the Church
18 December 2016 : Advent Sunday 4 A : Isaiah 7:10-14 : Romans 1:1-7 : Matthew 1:18-24Post published in: Faith