A Christmas quest for eternal youth
Bishop Graham James reflects on the quest for eternal youth in Christmas gifts, films and the nativity story.
Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent at Christmas on cosmetics. Quite a lot of them are bought by men who aren’t sure what they’re buying for women who don’t always want what they’ve bought.
We do some strange things at Christmas. But Jesus received some strange gifts in that stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Gold may be valuable but I doubt whether frankincense and myrrh were what Mary most wanted at the time.
The cosmetics and beauty industry flourishes because we want to look good, to smooth out the wrinkles of age, perhaps even to regain youth.
JM Barrie’s story Peter Pan is about the quest for eternal youth. He wrote it out of personal experience
When JM Barrie was just six, his older brother died. He could never fill his brother’s place in his mother’s affections. That older brother always remained the same age in the mind of the family. You never age when you die young.
JM Barrie and his wife never had any children but he became close to the children of some friends. This family had five boys. An older sister, Wendy, died young. When on the return from Neverland, Wendy asks if the five Lost Boys can be adopted, you know it’s no accident. For Barrie looked after his friends’ five boys, when their parents died. Peter Pan is a fantasy but it was grounded in real experience.
Sometimes the Christmas story can seem like a fantasy. Angels flying through the air; wise men travelling a long distance; even nasty characters like King Herod. But there’s a child at the heart of the story. A small, defenceless child. He becomes a man, preaches and teaches about love and forgiveness. But no one wants to know. They put him to death. The hopes of youth are dashed. Yet he comes to life again. This young Jesus continues to live in the hearts and minds of his followers who encounter him in worship, prayer and service.
Christmas is a challenge to our cynicism. A new-born human baby is one of the weakest of all creatures. Yet God chooses to come into the world this way – in weakness and love.
A few years ago I was in a church where some young people were making banners. One of them proclaimed “God is forever young”. So he is.
A happy New Year to you all.
Rt Rev Graham James is the Bishop of Norwich
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