I talk to myself. Sometimes out loud. On Sunday though it was in my head, because I was preaching at the same time. Not a case of being bored with my own sermon or getting in touch with my inner Gollum; but as I turned from page 2 to page 3, I had a conversation a bit like this:
“That’s a strange link.”
“Yeah… how do you get from the last sentence on that page, to the first one on the next?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s almost like there’s a page missing.”
“Eeeek, I think there is a page missing!”
Frantic scrabbling around among various papers ensues.
“Poo, there’s a page missing.”
“Where is it?
“I think it’s on a printer, or maybe I dropped it… or…”
“Does it really matter?! It’s not here. What are we going to do?”
“Try to remember what the missing page said. You did write it, didn’t you?”
“Yes but my memory is saved for useful things like the words for Bon Jovi songs from 1992.”
Frantic scrabbling around among various memory synapses ensues.
All that happened during one spoken sentence. Isn’t the brain amazing. More amazing than my waffly half-remembered words that followed.
This is what the missing page actually said:
So, Jesus, the King, the Light, was born not in a palace in Jerusalem but in a peasant house with the animals. The first people to visit were Jewish peasants who would have been very at home in that environment. And the next people Matthew tells us about who visited… were they important Jewish priests? Were they religious locals? No, they were foreign, of a different religion, drawn by the stars.
I wonder what we think about foreign people. Maybe we are foreign here. What would we think of foreign people in our own country? Especially foreign people of a different religion. What kind of God, who has previously seemed quite territorial and protective of the Jewish identity, chooses to announce the birth of the Messiah to non-Jewish followers of another religion?
A God whose grace extends beyond boundaries of race, of culture; a God who pulls us to stand above prejudice about foreigners or exclusiveness of religion. A God who doesn’t limit his communication to being through particular priests of the religious elite. A God who shouts from the rooftops, through Jewish peasants and foreign aristocrats, through religious scholars and an illiterate underclass, that the light has come. Where the marginalized foreigners are brought to the centre, and those usually at the centre – the local religious priests – are marginalized.
I think that page has been missing from lots of Christianity over the years. Maybe if we took a bit more notice of the people at heart of the incarnational story our attitude to foreigners, and to other religions, might be different. We may argue they shouldn’t be here; we may argue their beliefs are wrong. But we can’t contend with the fact that God chose to place such people at the centre of his salvation story. Imagine if our attitude to Arabs of another religion was influenced by how much God unexpectedly placed them at the centre of the salvation story we tell every year.
We can’t hate. We can’t despise. We can’t simply condemn or ignore. We can’t allow our faith to be adopted by nationalists or racists. But we can live in hope for God’s unexpected plan, and wait to see how they might point us to Jesus.
Interesting. Unnerving. Liberating?