December 2014


Fellow-travellers towards the end of the year,

Let me begin with a little context. I am sitting in my study, writing this letter on a new laptop, supplied with amazing generosity by a minister who attended one of the courses led by Bridget and me at Scargill recently. My old laptop (May it malfunction in peace) had finally been replaced by a new model a couple of weeks earlier, only to find itself dragged back into service when the usurper was stolen by burglars. My generous friend noticed the state of my battered PC and made it possible for me to buy the one I am using at this very moment. I am very grateful.

More context. On the right hand side of my desk stands a 500 gram packet of carrot cake mix. This is the latest ploy by one of my sons to get me actually to cook something. It may work. I like carrot cake, and the instructions appear very simple. If they will all clear off for a couple of hours I might do it. I only said “might”.

On the sill in front of me assorted photographs of my children lean against the window, reminding me that in the coming week we shall all be together for a few days, celebrating Christmas. Outside, in the “low maintenance” garden (no such thing) our ridiculously huge yucca plant is battling like a vast green firework with a wind which, as we know from previous experience, never blows everyone good, not all the time.

Yes, Christmas is coming, and the hash wind of terrorism has blown no good at all to over a hundred children and teachers in the faraway land of Pakistan. We know some people from Peshawar. Their hearts must be breaking. The people who instigated and planned this atrocity could have spent a very pleasant evening comparing notes with King Herod two thousand years ago.

“Yes, you're right. The only way to solve the problem. Crush it before it becomes even more of a threat. Destroy the children. Make sure they don't grow up to become heralds of independence and goodwill and equal opportunities and life as it was always meant to be lived. Strew their bleeding bodies around so that the others will get the message. Show them that in the end, we are the ones who are going to win.”

Actually, they are not going to win. Herod failed to destroy Jesus, the heart of love and hope, and, despite hammering that unresisting body to a piece of wood, nor did those who conspired to bring about his destruction. Love and hope will always be resurrected, no matter how many times mankind tries to crucify them. There will always be another Mulala, standing bravely before the entire world, her only weapons a desire for peace, and a quiet determination that evil can snarl and sneer all it wants, but it will never see victory.

Crucially, there always was, always is, always will be Jesus, not just at Christmas time, but at every time and in every place where shadows threaten and sadness falls like a cloak, and failure seems inevitable. Over and over again, from now until the end of time, Jesus will be born.

On Christmas day the world will turn again towards its end

But Jesus will be born

A woman who has tried once more in vain to re-create the morning

Will find her spirit crushed at last by failures and defeats

Her grief will trail like tattered ribbons

Through apocalyptic streets

And Jesus will be born

A little child who cannot waste his tiny reservoir of moisture

On a thing as purely pointless as a tear

Will puzzle at the burning skies

Blank and empty as his mother's eyes

And wish beyond the point of fear

That darkness would descend

And Jesus will be born

And in some cold, sad cell a man will dream of blessed ordinariness

A walk, a meal, a smile, a book, the chance to feel

A trusting hand in his

Small and soft and folded like a flower in the night

Devastating innocence that promises redemption and has never lied

But will not save him from the morning and the hour

When heavy boots come marching down the corridor outside

And Jesus will be born

And in a hollow church a hollow priest

Dry and dusty as some jeweled chalice locked away for safety and for ever

Will sit and sigh and gather oddments, scraps of truth

Remnants of an old, forgotten dream

Ideas and words like autumn leaves made brittle by a year of death

And by the scorching summer sun

And feel once more so glad, and oh, so very, very sad

That those who delicately brush his sprinkled fragments from their Sunday-best

Will never hear the distant, panic-stricken scream

And Jesus will be born

At the corner of the street the image of the living God

Will hug herself against the cold

And smoke a friendly cigarette

And be prepared to greet success with weary resignation

Feebly lit by one of yesterday's recycled smiles

And struggle to forget what she was told

When someone was in charge and choices could be made

And there was hope

And Jesus will be born

Jesus will be born, yes he will

Though the night enfolds like a black shroud

And the liar's lies drive us from our peace

And take us from our beds

And bring us to our knees

On the cold stone tiles of the kitchen floor

Jesus will be born, yes he will

Yes, though the skies crack

And the heavens sway

And the heat dies in the earth's core

And the last stitch in the last ditch appears

When all is lost

A child's hand will reach out from the manger

A wounded hand will catch our tears and hold them safe

For Jesus will be born for evermore on Christmas day

With all my heart I wish you the very best for Christmas and the new year. Please don't give up. All will be well.