Behind today’s window is a short film from the Diocese of Ely – The Nativity of Christ – a Christmas Miracle.
You have probably seen the recent controversy (perhaps deliberately created) around Greggs the bakers creating an Advent Calendar in which the last window sees the body of the baby Jesus replaced with a sausage roll.
My first reaction was laughter. Sausage rolls are funny. They do look a bit like a swaddled child too when you squint a bit.
Then I started to think about it a bit and couldn’t help but think of the inappropriateness of a pork based snack being in a scene in Bethlehem with the Jewish Holy Family. Then I also remembered that my Muslim brothers and sisters honour Jesus as holy.
And then I felt uncomfortable. Yes it’s funny initially but the birth of Christ – in lowly circumstances, is at the core of my beliefs as a Christian. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus becoming one of us and the ultimate image of Christmas is of the baby lying in the straw – God with us.
Think of one of your favourite family photos. Now think of it with the most precious person to you in it replaced with in an image of a cheap sausage roll. It’s not very nice is it?
There is a lot going on in this little episode with Greggs:
- crass commercialism – it comes out every Christmas and very recently more and more outlandish advent calendars are de rigueur – without anyone really understanding the point of an advent calendar is anticipation rather than instant gratification!
- lack of religious literacy – for example, did the people who came up with the idea not realise that Jesus is held in high regard by Muslims?
- appropriation of iconography – this happens a lot these days with meme making, in some ways the nativity scene is a kind of meme (invented by St Francis)
I think because Christianity is the state religion that this makes Christianity more fair game for ridicule. And let’s face it those of us, particularly in the Church of England, make a virtue of sending ourselves up – just look at my site anglicanmemes.com!
Part of me was kind of pleased that at least the Christian origins of Christmas were evident in this Greggs Advent calendar. Every year I get irritated at having to hunt for ‘religious’ Christmas cards! It’s a bit like the comment made at a conference about the Life of Brian recently where people said that at least when the film came out in the 70s people had enough biblical knowledge to ‘get’ the ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers’ joke – now it doesn’t even register as a joke in a young audience.
Making foodstuffs based on the Christmas story is not new. In fact, Greggs should have gone for the stollen for the baby Jesus – as stollen cake is supposed to represent the baby Jesus (the marzipan) in his swaddling clothes! The problem with the sausage roll is misappropriation. One concern I have is that when using very familiar Christian iconography (which is designed to be replicated as a meme to help spread the message of the faith) advertisers, because it is the ‘default’ religion in our country don’t ask the question ‘who might this upset?’ in the same way they might if using iconography from another religion. As Rowan Williams once said, we don’t live in a secular country, we live in a country haunted by the memory of religion. That memory, as each year passes, is getting more and more faint, unfortunately – and so we end up with a sausage roll in a manger.
The sad thing is – it’s almost ok. Almost. After all, the only place left for Jesus to be placed is in a feeding trough for animals – it’s not a salubrious beginning – and that is the point and the scandal of the incarnation.
It leaves a progressive Christian like me with a quandary. I don’t want to get outraged – as there are things that are far more worth my anger than this (such as child food poverty in the UK). I don’t want to come across as reactionary or suggest that this means that Christians are being persecuted – this is not persecution at all. I want to show that Christians know how to have a laugh and don’t take themselves too seriously. But at the end of it, I am a Jesus follower. The arrival of the Christ child is the most shattering thing that has ever happened in history, it changed the course of history for ever: God with us. To replace the image of God as a child with a sausage roll is actually quite offensive. But, in the same way as it will help Greggs to flog a few more pastry snacks this Christmas I hope this will get people talking about Jesus and his central role in Christmas more than if they hadn’t done it – maybe all publicity is good publicity in this case?
Don’t worry though. I’m not going to try and crowbar the sausage roll into my Christmas sermon!
Here is my round up of articles on this story that are worth a read:
Tonight we had a beautiful 9 lessons and carols service. One of our readers, Ros, read this poem by Lisa Debney and it was so beautiful I wanted to share it with you along with my good wishes for Christmas and 2017.
Remember that we carry the light of Christ with us into this dark world – the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!
Mary by Lisa Debney
Your eyes are open now.
Those eyes which will open the eyes of others.
You study my face and, just for the moment,
though you came for the world,
you are mine and mine alone.
I made you and you made me
and we gaze at each other in equal wonderment.
Your eyes are open now,
so dark-bright –
sent from a night full of light and stars –
that I could watch you for ever,
watch your chest rise and fall
as you breathe the cattle-soaked air.
I would like this moment to last for ever,
you are so wonderful to me,
so truly wonderful as you are.
But not my will, Lord, but yours be done.
I must hand you over for the world cries out for you,
though I cry out to let you go.
Just for tonight let the future leave us in peace.
Close your eyes, baby.
Close your bright eyes on the dusty darkness of the world.
There is majesty in you but for now let it hide,
let it hide like a gem while you sleep.
Wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Here is an extract from my Christmas Day sermon:
If you truly put yourself into the nativity story, you can’t help but wonder: how did Mary cope?
Well, St Luke gives us a tiny clue in a beautiful verse. He writes that Mary ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’. I think he is referring not only to the words of the Shepherds but to the other words Mary has heard up to giving birth to Jesus.
Unlike us, Mary didn’t know the end of the story, didn’t know what was going to happen to her after she said ‘yes’ to God. So Mary clung onto the words and to the Word that she had heard as if her life depended on it. She remembered that the angel Gabriel had told her that she was highly favoured by God, she remembered, after hearing the jeers calling her a prostitute and a whore as she left Nazareth for her cousin Elizabeth’s house that the first thing that Elizabeth said to her was that she was ‘blessed among women’, and then she remembered exactly the message that the angels had passed onto the shepherds, those men with funny accents and coarse ways that stumbled into the cave – they said ‘peace on earth and goodwill to those on whom God’s favour rests’ – God’s favour – Gabriel said that God favoured me, Mary remembered, me, here in this cave a long way from home, disgraced by my village – God still favours me.
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Mary shows us what it is to have faith in the most dire of circumstances and there was worse to come for her. Soon after she and Joseph would have to flee to Egypt as refugees, unsure of the welcome they would receive in the country of the old enemy of their people. But Mary, throughout, must have treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. God favours me, she remembered, I am blessed among women. She chose to believe in God’s word when all the other words around her said the opposite.
So as we are on the cusp of a new year, unaware of what is to come, of the challenges and joys to come, we too should be like Mary and treasure the word of God to us, that we are loved so much, that we are welcomed, that we are included, that, yes, we are favoured by God so much that he became a vulnerable baby, come to be with us, alongside us in our difficulties and our delight. Let us treasure all these words, the Word of God, more than any other gifts we might receive today and ponder this mystery, this Christmas joy in our hearts. Amen.
This Christmas has been a bit manic, what with our imminent move to the North East! I did find time, though, to create a contribution to this year’s online carol service – this time lead not by me but by Kathryn Rose. So here is the reading I produced:
But since this is from the Old Testament I will also share the videos I made from the last two years announcing the good news of the Incarnation of God in Christ.
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic 2014!
My friend Helen just shared this on Facebook (via my other friend Bex). It is a creative social media take on the Christmas story where it’s told through Instagram images:
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the dark side to Christmas. My friend Andy wrote a very moving article reflecting on what this Christmas would be like for the people of Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve also just read the book Dazzling Darkness by Rachel Mann where she explores what it means to meet God in the darkest moments of life. At my placement church in Leeds there are many people who visit each week to collect food from the foodbank and there are others who have fled their countries and live here in fear. All of this has combined to make me think again about the message of Christmas and what this season of joy might mean to these different people.
When we read the bible, it is sometimes the things that are not said that can be significant. We are fortunate that our gospel writers wrote very intentionally – their versions of the life of Christ and the early Christians weren’t written on the back of an envelope – they were carefully crafted. If you look closely at the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke there is quite a lot of hidden sadness.
As we can see, in amongst all the joy is sadness. In the call of God there is both loss and gain.
I don’t know if this gives me comfort or not. I guess it does because if it wasn’t there, I don’t think I could believe the story – it wouldn’t feel real.
I got irritated in Waterstone’s yesterday looking in the so-called Religion section. There, next to the bibles was AC Grayling’s alternative to the bible ‘The Good Book’. A cursory glance at it immediately spoke to me of emptiness. The reason the bible is the ultimate Good Book is because it contains the disturbing reality of human life – not a sanitised version of what we think it ought to be. I think I’d rather have the warts and all version of how God deals with people than someone’s lofty ideas of how life should be. This is the amazing mystery we celebrate at Christmas, that in our confused and often sad lives, Jesus still chooses to come and be present to us, in the dirt, whilst others whisper about the inappropriateness of it all.
Immanuel. God with us.