Refugee Nativity

Refugee Nativity

What is the abiding image of 2015? One picture turned the political tide in Europe. In early September the body of a drowned toddler washed up on a Turkish beach. The shocking photograph of Aylan Kudi’s little body, face-down in the sand, came to symbolize the desperate plight of refugees. Within 12 hours the image was seen by an estimated 20 million people and shamed European governments into taking action. It was no longer acceptable to speak about those fleeing war as a ‘swarm’ or ‘flood’. Humanity broke through in the image. It was deeply moving. It was a picture that changed everything. One church, San Anton in downtown Madrid incorporated this image in their adaptation of a Nativity Crib. The figure of Aylan takes the place of the baby Jesus while his grief-stricken parents replace Mary and Joseph. Instead of a stable, the trio are sheltered by a refugee tent with reproductions of drawings by refugee children of their journeys. They stand on a map of the perilous journeys those feeling war take today. Is this what you expect of the church at Christmas? Doesn’t it ruin the festive atmosphere? The answer depends on whether your version of Christmas comes from a ‘disneyfied’ school nativity play or from the real Bible story. Matthew’s gospel follows the story of the mysterious Magi (decorative and exotic on a Christmas cards near you) with a much darker story – a power-crazy despot, the slaughter of innocent children and a family forced to flee by crossing dangerous international borders. In the middle of this story of politics and massacre are a little refugee family...
Santa vs Baby Jesus

Santa vs Baby Jesus

There are 2 men vying for our attention this festive season. In the Red corner, the front runner, Father Christmas, aka Santa, dressed in fur and Coca Cola Red, rotund, bearded and jolly…and in the blue (with cold) corner, baby Jesus, aka Christ, dressed in nothing more than strips of cloth, newborn-small and lying in a feeding trough. Somebody stop the contest. This doesn’t seem a fair match. Jesus versus Santa. It makes you think. What do they bring to the ring? Santa brings a list of good people, he’s ‘found out who’s naughty and nice’. We approve of this approach; rewards to the good and deserving and a moral lesson for the naughty. Jesus brings a weird tendency to hang around with the naughty, to eat in their homes and call them friends. He has no list. He says he hasn’t come to judge but to save. We don’t like this. Round one Santa. Santa lets us write a list too. We can tell him what to bring. Bring me stuff. Bring me lots of stuff to stuff into my already over-stuffed house. Bring me upgrades of stuff I got last year; I want the latest, shiniest, I-bet-you-want-one stuff. Don’t bring me any old thing. Bring me something from my online wish list. And bring it on time, by Christmas Day please. Jesus won’t do well against this. He says you can’t tell him what to bring. His gifts look a bit odd. The gift of serving, the gift of painful maturity, the gift of joy (which, it turns out, is nothing to do with happiness and doesn’t...