No Offence

Social media is awash with religious sentiment at the moment, although many of the tropes and sayings are in fact quite profound. It’s just that when they all arrive together their meaning and significance is often lost to the casual scroller. Or perhaps the scroller isn’t really being all that casual. We are just looking for something on which to pin our confused thoughts and feelings in regard to Christmas. Some of us are dealing with events, memories, triggers and conflicting emotions that make it hard to stay on message. By that I mean staying fixed mentally, emotionally and physically to what Christmas is about.

The clumsily designed cards, the carols, the canned music in shops point to a mystery that defies description.  It is a mystery that chooses (because it involves human will, the will of one woman who chose to say ‘yes’ to it) to be revealed in the ordinary, in the routine, in things not being as they ‘should’ be, so that the heart of it can be known and understood by the excluded, the unloved, the anxious and afraid, and by the plain busy.

Christmas carries a health warning. There are times when no amount of will power makes staying on message possible, the reason being that the foundational story itself is not something that one can call upon to make sense of the season as most of us experience it. It is something that captures you unawares, leaving the heart exposed, and this can be annoying, for ourselves, and even frightening.

It is annoying or frightening when it puts us at risk of minding about what is said or done in regard to this particular Christian festival. I am annoyed with myself for the gut reaction I experience when the story, or images that depict it, are twisted in such a way as to make the event totally devoid of mystery, or worse, expose it to ridicule. I am also ashamed for the people who do this because it reflects so badly on them. The story, despite the trite imagery it is subjected to, will endure, as it has done for centuries. Their shallow humour will not.

In that respect, the idea that Christians are ‘offended’ by caricatures and distortions of the Christmas story bears no relation to what some of us actually feel. We do not experience offence. We feel grief. Sometimes we actually weep, not for ourselves, but for the cynicism of the individual and for the way it is reflected in the callous indifference of so many in regard to the deeper meaning of this festival.

This is where the health warning applies, and the cynics probably sense this. There is a real risk that hearts might be touched and minds turned, in less than a nano-second, when the frightening realisation of the truth of this Christmas story is laid bare in a way that is undeniable because it is somehow ‘birthed’ from within a person’s deep consciousness, that place in which we hide the worst and the best of ourselves, where we both know and are known for who and what we are, or could become.

Given all of these considerations, ‘It came upon a midnight clear’, one of my favourite carols, rings more truthfully than ever. Few would deny that the world and individual nations, each in their different ways, are in a ‘midnight place’ right now; a total breakdown of trust in government, the rationalisation of war and violence, the ‘crushing load’ of life that we all bear from time to time, and of which the carol sings, rampant hatred on social media, contempt for the holy. But ‘heaven’s all gracious King’ waits to be gracious to us in all of this. All that is required, for the world’s trajectory, and our own lives, to be radically altered, is a ‘yes’ when the mystery and its truth asks to be acknowledged by each one of us, perhaps while we sing the old carols or open the next Christmas card.

Author: Lorraine Cavanagh

Anglican priest living in Wales, UK. Author. Books include 'In Such Times - Reflections On Living With Fear' (Wipf and Stock 2019), 'Waiting On The Word - Preaching Sermons That Connect People With God' (DLT 2017), 'Finding God In Other Christians' (SPCK 2014), 'Beginning Again' (Kindle e-book 2015) All books available from Amazon

One thought on “No Offence”

  1. In the Russian Orthodoix Church, there was no room for Christmas – it was all about Easter and the sacrifice of a life for the greater good.

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