Friday, 27 December 2013
The Bishop of Manchester this Christmas has the salvation of camels very much on his mind. I further note that the Bishop of Norwich is concerned in his Christmas sermon about the transformation of the shepherds' dog; which, like so much of what we add to the Nativity scene, doesn't appear in the Biblical accounts of the birth of the Christ Child. Now their Lordships have got my mind a leaping. My concern is for the poor sheep left behind on the Bethlehem hills! Who was looking after them while the shepherds went in search of the Lamb of God?
Brings out the worst of analogies and picture making. Honestly. The Bishop of Oxford, for John's gospel and contrasted with two stories elsewhere, says: This is no small town deity pushed to the edge and trying to get a mention in the weekly newspaper. This is the God whose light has been travelling towards us from the Big Bang for 13.7 billion years at a speed 186,000 miles per second.
It doesn't work, does it? He does the literally cosmic, and it falls flat on its face.
I read Lincoln's first, as I used to live within there, and it is just so low-level and pedestrian like shepherds turning up at some birth place.
But then I don't believe it, either history-like or cosmic, and I can see why.
'Who was looking after them while the shepherds went in search of the Lamb of God?'
Why, the angels of course. They were the ones who told the shepherds to go, so they guarded the flock in their absence.
I mention this in my children's Christmas story of Silas the Sheep, based on contemporary research.
Not all of these sermons are bad, by any means. They are all well meant and kindly. However, if anyone thinks that the ars predicandi has been lost, I would urge them to read some of the past sermons of the archbishop of Dublin - much the most scholarly, and arguably the most thoughtful, prelate either side of the water, and a serious loss to the Church of England since he left Oxford for the deanery of Cork.
But if they don't practise equality what is the use ?
They did what they can.
It's not their fault. Straight guys just have no artistry or insight. They're fine at fund-raising, and getting stuff built, but touching eternal verities is just beyond them.
The Provost of Glasgow reminds us in his address that you can always tell when it is Christmas because Easter eggs are in the shops. Of all the episcopal Christmas sermons I think the Bishop of Norwich (do you know him?) scores the highest marks out of ten. His tale about the dog in the paintings in the church at the Shepherds field reminds me of nothing more than the great west window in St. Mary's parish church in Rye (Tilling) given by the son of Archbishop Edward White Benson in memory of his parents. The window has recently been restored and depicts a magnificent Nativity scene. The Holy family are, of course, central - with the heavenly host above and the humble shepherds below. Rather incongruously F.E. Benson includes himself in the bottom right hand corner - dressed in his scarlet mayoral robes. Accompanying one of the shepherds is his favourite dog - Taffy - a black Labrador. Dogs tend to get a bad press in the pages of Holy Scripture but dog lovers everywhere will be pleased to see them in artistic representations of the Holy Nativity.
"It's not their fault. Straight guys just have no artistry or insight" Mark Brunson
And who is to say they're all straight? Changing Attitude gives us to understand that there are at least a dozen gay bishops. The odds are that one of these was preaching from the back of the closet.
You could also add to your list of Christmas sermons the final Nativity address preached by the one and only Bishop of Ripon & Leeds in which he inevitably mentions the advent of the new diocese of Leeds which is to be subdivided into five mission areas led by bishops of Leeds, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Bradford and Ripon ( what pray is to happen to the suffragan bishops of Knaresborough and Pontefract post-Easter?) But of far greater interest upon the Ripon & Leeds diocesan website is Bishop Packer's masterly Advent lecture entitled "An Episcopal Legacy" in which he looks back upon his eleven predecessors from 1836 to 1999 and comments sagely upon their strengths and weaknesses. A timely lecture as the diocese slips away into the sands of history.