Advent Firesiders

Protest (2011)

As I write in the early days of November, it is not clear how the protest outside Saint Paul's Cathedral will be faring by the time you read this during Advent but, as the most salient Christian related event of this year, there are some basic things which can and should be said as we prepare to celebrate the memory of the Incarnation.

I must say that I have rather enjoyed the Socialist Workers' Party - those scions of Lenin's irrefutable arguments of concrete and steel - holding placards with snippets from the Sermon on the Mount. I am sure Jesus would have had a bit of a laugh. Clearly the protest is made up of a wide variety of people, some of whom are committed, if rather ill read, Marxists. Others have simply had enough, either because of the mad roulette of speculation or its resultant fall in pension pots. And others still have been caught up in the blessed naivite of the enterprise. Journalists might sneer that these people don't have a solution, nor a manifesto; but neither do the world's politicians, bankers or journalists, for that  matter.

Put all the shouting and posturing to one side and what shines through is that blessed naivite. Jesus wasn't an economist nor a politician; he was Christianity's first and greatest fool, a sucker for every passing beggar, always falling for sob stories, incapable of hanging on to his loose change; throwing his weight behind apparently Utopian causes. He was an improbably unconventional figure; and if he were born today, I would like to think that it would be in a little canvas tent outside the magnificent walls of Saint Paul's.

It's easy to get carried away by Evangelical post hoc rationalisation. Jesus was almost certainly a Pharisee and many of his followers, right up to the time of the Council of Jerusalem were Pharisees, and so he was not in this respect an outsider but he did have a proper suspicion of Temple religion. And there's no point being romantic about his life style either; he and his father were almost certainly reasonably paid house  builders in  Sephoris and Jesus took a nice big house in Capernaum as his mission headquarters.

So, as the Saint Paul's demo shows; nothing is simple. The authorities have had to struggle with their conflicting responsibilities for social justice and worship. Both are equally important according to Jesus; but there's a time for every season under heaven; and, surely, the worship could have waited while the social justice was being promoted. That was the ultimate conclusion, but it took a long time. And what is really galling is that the venal press have had fun at our expense and they're no more committed to the Sermon on the Mount than they are to taking the pledge.

When we read the first three chapters of Luke we meet a bewildering array of non conventional people trying to do their best in the context of a rather rigid system; but you know that something is going to give. The Incarnation was explosive. It was going to set the world alight for Jews and Gentiles, it was going to bring good news to the poor, it was going to change all human history forever. And it did.