Bishop of Norwich fulfils childhood ambition
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, tells of realising a childhood ambition in a special Christmas message.
Today in Norwich Cathedral I shall realise a childhood ambition. I’m playing the innkeeper in the nativity play at the Crib Service at noon. As a child I always thought the innkeeper had the best part for a boy.
But I always seemed to end up as one of the shepherds with a tea towel on my head.
Boys were shepherds, girls were angels. I am not sure my primary school was in the forefront of gender equality.
The innkeeper has the best part in a nativity play since there is the chance for some character acting.
He can begin by being gruff with Joseph and Mary’s request for a room when they haven’t had the sense to book ahead at a busy time.
Then, seeing their plight, he can relent and show his softer side, giving them at least some shelter with the animals in the stable.
Tough and business-like at first, the innkeeper shows he has a heart. He’s softer than he appears.
It was reported earlier this month that some schools were introducing other characters into the nativity play to spice it up a bit.
It’s more than a decade since Love Actually was released in which Daisy appeared as a lobster in a nativity play.
Now we are told Elvis Presley, aliens from outer space and famous footballers jostle with the shepherds and wise men.
It’s a pity since the nativity story has not ceased to be relevant. It’s a story for all time.
Mary and Joseph are displaced from their home in Nazareth as a result of government diktat (the census).
There are millions of displaced people in our world today. Soon after the birth they flee to Egypt as refugees to escape a wicked tyrant (King Herod) who kills young children.
Just before Christmas we learned of the tragic killing of more than 130 children at a school in Pakistan. The murder of innocents continues in our own day. And refugees are everywhere in our world.
A traditional nativity story also contains exotic visitors (the wise men), sudden and unexpected visions (the angels coming to the shepherds) and an image of a united creation (human beings share the animals’ stable – the animals are hospitable).
It is all there. Our nativity plays are not sentimental.
Anyone attending to the story will recognise timeless truths about the human condition. It’s into our messy and disordered world that God comes in the birth of Jesus Christ.
Next month I will be in Bethlehem again with many of the curates from this diocese.
It’s a means of supporting the Christians who still live in the Holy Land. They are now a tiny minority.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, and especially in Syria, Christians are being threatened with death if they do not renounce their faith or leave, even if they have nowhere to go. They are not even offered a stable.
So they can only wonder at Joseph and Mary’s good fortune. Some of the most ancient Christian communities on earth are not simply being persecuted but obliterated. Hope is almost extinguished.
But not quite. These are communities which have known terrible persecution in the past. They believe in renewal. They believe in the Prince of Peace. Weak though they are, they believe in the power of the message of the angels – ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth’.
For them Christmas hasn’t lost its meaning. It gains even more relevance.
The intensity with which Christians in the Middle East wish you a happy Christmas is very different from our sometimes casual greetings. Let’s learn from them.
A very happy and peaceful Christmas to you all.
This message was originally carried in today’s Eastern Daily Press