This is the Christmas edition of the Pump and, although it seems many weeks away as I write, it will only be days away as you read. I am not yet in the ‘Christmas spirit’ – how do the professional actors do their Christmas TV specials so convincingly during the summer and autumn months? – presumably that is why they are well paid actors!
But why am I not yet in the Christmas Spirit? I remember talking in Church last year and the year before and the year bef . . . that Christmas is not just for Christmas, it’s for life. The message of Christmas is that God loves you and is there to help and strengthen you (that is what ‘comfort’ means if you go back to its Latin roots) – but not just for one day or for the ‘twelve days of Christmas’.
I think the Christmas festivities are great. Their pagan roots are really relevant and valid – having a blow out and party over the shortest and darkest days of winter is a tremendous idea – and linking it to the best news you can get at that dark time makes every kind of sense. My problem is that we then tend to put the message back on the shelf until next year. We probably can’t meaningfully party all year round, but we can be comforted by that message all year round.
Someone said to me some months ago that he hears Christians talking about meeting Jesus, but he did not see how that was possible or made any sort of sense. In approaching that, we could start with a little note that I saw today in some papers we were sorting, belonging to an old lady who died recently – it said ‘We are one another’s angels’. Whatever you may think an angel is (and let’s ignore for the time being the rather ridiculous dark angels of some current fantasy films and books), we most of us have an idea of what they do – which is to minister to those in need, whether physical or spiritual need. Those of you who have not yet come across the story, written over 100 years ago by an American, of the Fourth Wise Man, should find it and read it if you can (not in reduced, bowdlerised children’s versions please!) – it is about a man who was an angel to those he came across. He had gifts to give to Jesus and gave them all away to those in need while he was searching and only discovered at the end that he was giving to Jesus all the time. It is a tremendously moving story, poetically written.
In the Bible in the Book of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus says: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The disciples asked when they had done any of those things for him and he replied that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The answer to my friend who did not know how to meet Jesus is simply to do some good for someone. Many years ago now, I was working in central London. At about lunch time on a fine sunny day, I walked from my office to a client’s and walked past the old Lyceum theatre (where they used to have the Miss World contests) near the joining of the Strand and the Aldwych. I did a lot of walking in London and I was quite used to passing by begging tramps and taking no notice of them (I clearly did not regard myself as their angel!). On this particular day, as I passed the Lyceum, there was a youngish man, basically clean, sitting on the pavement leaning against the wall who asked, quietly and politely, if I had any food and looked me in the eyes as he asked. I ignored him and went round the corner into the Strand. I was not rich and could not afford to throw money away, but as I walked away I knew that I had received a personal prayer for help and that I had ignored it. It probably took me five minutes to decide to go back and ask the man to have a sandwich with me in the pub that was on that corner. But when I went back, he had gone.
Later in the afternoon, I was walking back towards the Aldwych down Kingsway and saw a group of people looking down at something. When I got closer I could see that there was a man on one knee supporting the head of another man lying on his back on the ground. It was the young man I had seen earlier. I have no idea who he was, I have no idea whether he was ill, just hungry or even if he was dying. But I know that I saw Jesus that day and did not recognise him till too late. How many other times have I done the same?
This Christmas, I will celebrate with everyone the good news of the arrival on earth of Jesus, who came to comfort me. He came to comfort you also. But my challenge is always (not just at Christmas!) not to deserve again what Jesus went on to say to his disciples – “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”