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Reform Magazine | November 27, 2020

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Editorial: Christmas or politics?

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This December brings us perhaps the most important general election in a generation. An occasion of anxiety and alarm for people of quite different perspectives, of nationwide division, of misinformation, of grave decisions.

It also brings us Christmas. Which would you write an editorial about? Brexit and the future of democracy, or mince pies and candlelight?

When I face choices like this, I try to do both. So I have grabbed my desk Bible (Revised English Bible, if you want to play along at home) and looked in the Christmas story for something relevant. The Magnificat, Mary’s song when she hears that she will be the mother of the Messiah, seems to have quite a lot of politics in it. What guidance might I find here?

‘The Lord’s mercy is sure.’ I like that, and surely we could do with some more merciful policy. ‘He has shown the might of his arm,’ Mary says. Hmm, displays of might are not quite so much to my taste, but I suppose I shouldn’t be cherry picking. ‘He has filled the hungry with good things.’ Yes, preach it, Mary! ‘And sent the rich away.’ Well, that’s sounding a bit radical. ‘He has brought down monarchs from their thrones.’ I’m getting into deep water here. ‘He has come to the help of Israel.’ Yes, I think there’s a limit to just how literally you can take the Magnificat as a 2019 political manifesto.

But then again, there is something about Mary’s song that gives us a sense of the political world Jesus was born into. I also have a Christmas card catalogue on my desk, and what a blissful world those cards inhabit. A pastoral idyll. A sleepy hillside village. A contented little baby in his snug nest, bathed in the warm glow of angel light, surrounded by contemplative farmyard animals. Exotic visitors with charming gifts.

Mary’s song comes from a different place – one of hunger and poverty, of gross inequality. The powerful take pride in their exploitation, the powerless are ground down. The Jewish people cry out for deliverance. This is the world that God comes into, Mary says, and she should know.

But how subtle God’s turning up is – a microscopic bunch of cells in the body of a peasant girl. Has anything actually changed? Mary sees so much promise in this event that she sings of hope and faith and transformation and deliverance. I so love the carolly, candley cosiness of Christmas. But it does seem to me that I only have a right to enjoy it if I’m singing Mary’s song, with my heart and life, the rest of the year.

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This article was published in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of Reform

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