O Little Town of Aleppo

21 Dec
(Thoughts on the Sunday before Christmas given at Lessons and Carols Service, 2016)
Tonight we sing carols and read of the much awaited anointed who is to bring peace and goodwill to all. Tonight we begin to dream of Christmas Day and the romanticised meaning story that goes with it. Tonight we think of presents, visits from family members, roast pork and crackling and Christmas pudding. Tonight it is so easy to drift away from the story as is told.
Two scared and lonely young middle eastern people fulfilling the need to be counted by a tyrannical government and expecting their first child. They find themselves in unfamiliar territory, nowhere to stay and a baby due any moment.
They take whatever refuge they are offered and find themselves sharing a space with animals and their food troughs. The event is so traumatic and decisive they and those nearby experience events beyond imagining they can only describe as a choir of angels, darkness snapping light and a sound so dramatic it shakes them up so much shepherds, outcasts, make their way in to see what this is all about.
It was no sweet and delightful event. It was terrifying and it remained so after the birth resulting in, some time later, an exodus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.
Sound familiar? Is it an ancient story? No. It is the story of refugees and boat people, people escaping war torn countries and the oppression of powerful countries. It is a story that is ever new and everyday. It is a story we have been spared and perhaps that is why we romanticise the images at Christmas the way we romanticise poverty and meaningless work.
Our challenge this Christmas is to embrace the truth at the centre of this story – the brutality of humanity to its own – and to commit ourselves to work for peace and goodwill for all. What happened in the little town of Bethlehem reverberates through our world and we do it a disservice if we remain stuck in a Hallmark card representation.
As we begin this week let us think of another middle eastern city and stand with the child yet to be born.
How scared we see thee lie,
Above thy ancient, ruined streets
Unholy stars collide.
Yet in some backstreet shelter
A newborn infant cries,
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight
For Christ is born of Mary
And Herod smells the blood
Still Rachel weeps, but angels keep
Their bitter watch of love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth,
Let weeping cease, and foolish peace
Be born again in us.
How silently, how violently
The wondrous gift is slain
A mother cries and though he dies
Her son shall rise again.
Perceive his broken body
Conceive his future form
And as you grieve, yet still believe
The birth of Isa dawns.
(Peter Greig)


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