“I’m just not feeling as festive this year,” said my eleven-year-old son, this morning, Christmas Eve.
“I know. It’s harder for everyone, I think.” What else could I say? It may be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but in 2020, that’s not saying a lot.
Normally at Christmas, when we sing lines like “tidings of comfort and joy” we focus primarily on the “joy.” I do, anyway. I like to think of Christmas as a happy time, a time of celebration and rejoicing. In all my Christmases, I can’t remember ever thinking much at all about the other word: “comfort.”
A man said to his two sons, “I need you to do a job for me”. One son said “no”, the other son said “yes”—but that’s not how it happened. In fact, the son who said “no” changed his mind and did the job, while the son who said “yes” got involved in something else and never followed through.
It’s a simple story, told by Jesus in Matthew 21, and the point is clear: making the right noises is good, but doing the right thing is better. It’s a point our human hearts need reminding of, and often. Our world is obsessed with words, impressed by words, drowning in words. As someone who enjoys writing, I take great delight in finding the right phrase and spinning it around until I find just the right way to turn it. But no matter how hard I work at this, I have to admit: it’s always easier to find words for ideas than it is to act on them. It’s easier to write a love song than it is to genuinely give yourself for the good of another person. It’s easier to rail against the proud and greedy than it is to stop being those things myself. It’s easier to say “consistency is key in raising children” than it is to be consistent while raising actual children. In almost every area of life, it’s easier to say the right thing than it is to do the right thing.
As he rounded the corner, the view opened up and he saw the city in front of him, perched proud and confident on its hill, like a king enthroned. At the highest point stood the Temple, glistening gold in the sun, reflecting off the tears on his face:
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…”
This was the city that rejected him. This was the golden Temple he would cleanse in righteous anger. These were the people who would shout “crucify him!” and make fun of him as he died. These were the people who would pierce his heart, and these were the people who broke it.
I was challenged by a young man recently to write a poem about the current situation. I love the medium of spoken word poetry, so I decided to take this opportunity to give it a try. Here’s the result (The reason it looks homemade is because it is homemade):
It doesn’t take long. You walk in the door and know within twenty seconds whether you’ve stepped into a comfortable home where you can relax and belong, or walked into a set of rooms that are evaluating and anticipating your departure. It’s almost as if you can smell it, even though you can’t quite put your finger on the scent. You know. Oddly enough, the outside couldn’t tell you. You had to cross the threshold. A house encloses an atmosphere all its own, an atmosphere you can only guess at until you’ve filled your lungs with it. I’ve been to warm brick mansions with flower-studded gardens where the other side of the door holds air that is stale, expensive, and untouchable. On the other hand, I’ve breathed in generous kindness inside shacks that let the sun in through their cracks, and sent the sound of laughter back to meet him. But that doesn’t mean it’s an income issue: I’ve also been to identical houses that shared the same street, yet behind their doors the air was radically different.
The coming of Santa is good news, as we all know. Homes with alarm systems and bolted doors still welcome a visit from the jolly old man who lets himself in through the chimney. He’s not taking anything (except milk and cookies), he’s leaving gifts behind. This is good news!
It so happens that “good news” is the definition on the word “gospel”. And though Santa is good news for children everywhere, his gospel does come with a few conditions:
We’ve all heard of the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. From the 1500-1800’s, more than 12 million souls were captured, torn from their families and homes, and sold across the sea – with almost 2 million dying before they even landed. Those that made it were treated as sub-human property by their new masters, to be used and tossed aside at will.
Of all the people in the world, these are the last you’d expect to hear singing. Yet sing they did, with such passion and rhythm and hope that they eventually created a whole new kind of music: Gospel, a genre still popular enough today that I recently attended a concert at the Cork City Hall along with hundreds of other people who all paid €40 for the privilege of hearing the Blind Boys Of Alabama sing about Jesus in their toe tapping style. Continue reading Gospel Music: The Happy Song That Grew From Suffering
This coming Friday, the 26th October, we will have the opportunity to re-elect or vote for a new President. On the same day we, the citizens of Ireland, are being asked to vote on a proposal to change the Constitution of Ireland in relation to the issue of blasphemy. At present, the Constitution says that publishing or saying something blasphemous is an offence punishable under law. Article 40.6.1 in full says:
The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality: i) The right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. The education of public opinion being, however, a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavour to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as the radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the State. The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.Continue reading A Christian Perspective On The Blasphemy Referendum