Never mind the Christmas tinsel, watch the body language
A Christmas message from the Rev Andrew Studdert-Kennedy, Rector of Marlborough
The news this week before Christmas has been dominated by the deaths of two hugely contrasting political leaders -- Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong II. Whilst one was a fearless fighter for freedom and truth, the other appears to have been merciless in his suppression of both.
In death as in life, the contrast continues. The public response to Havels’ death has been restrained and dignified, but above all credible. The lighting of candles in Wenceslas Square beneath a large Czech flag seems wholly apposite.
In North Korea, the public manifestation of grief feels entirely untrustworthy, an example of the kind of Kitsch that Havel and fellow Czech dissident, Milan Kundera, wrote about so compellingly. It is an indication of the level of corruption in a state when the histrionics of grief take on a competitive quality.
Generally we believe that actions speak louder than words, but in North Korea it would appear that they are equally misleading. Body language has ceased to communicate truth.
One of the features of being human is that we know the fragility of the words we utter; often there is a gap between what we say and what we do, between what we profess to be and how we actually behave.
The Christian story in general, and the Christmas part of it in particular, is based on the conviction that God’s Word does not have this kind of gap.
For God -- to speak is to do and to promise is to fulfil.
God’s word tells us that he loves us; God joining our human race in the form of a baby is the action that complements the word. The ‘body language of God’ is not misleading.
Love can never force its own way and is always open to the possibility of rejection. But it is also open to everyone and is therefore endlessly accessible. For these reasons the Christmas story has a truth all of its own because there is a theological necessity that Jesus is born in the way that he is.
Love makes it reasonable that God’s human shape should be that of a new born child and not an earthly king. And love makes it possible to believe that God’s coming is not some contract but a free gift. It allows us to know that we are not cut off from the source of our life.
But God’s coming among us is not intended solely for our comfort; it is intended, too, for our transformation. And here again, God’s ‘body language’ fits its task – for a new born baby is difficult to ignore and commands our attention.
So as we celebrate Christmas once more, as we celebrate God’s body language, let us also respond and allow such love to change us.
With best wishes for a very Happy Christmas and a New Year that is kind to us all.