May we all have a very happy and blessed Christmas. Remembering departed friends and entertaining – and being entertained by – the friends who are still with us. It is a magical time not just for children but for all of us when we lift ourselves, or get lifted, whether we like it or not, from everyday life with its sudden shocks and long aches. It’s a time for thinking what life is about, although we are getting used to Christmas just as the Holiday Season, the Festive Season, the Please Leave Religion Out of This Season. Sometimes people worry about this, but why should they? As long as we celebrate with courtesy and with respect for other people’s comfort as well as our own fun, why should there not be a mid-winter festival, with horns blowing and bells jingling and laughter in the market place? It’s like keeping Sunday holy, worshipping is holy, and fun is holy too, so why not do both on the one day? Doing both together at the one time, though, doesn’t work, as many a preacher has found out when making a joke that falls flat during a sermon.
There is one worrying thing about Christmas – the real excitement of what really happened in Bethlehem gets lost. Imagine the stir there would be if, say, a couple of hundred people called Ó Neill were to flock into Dungannon, all claiming they were – as they probably are – descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages and that one of their line was likely to become King of Ulster in the not too distant future. What happened in Bethlehem was something like that. So of course important political and religious people were afraid. Those were nervous times in Bethlehem, the King was nervous, the people were nervous, even across the borders and as far away as Persia people were nervous. A new king might mean a revolution in Palestine, upheaval in a whole empire. And so the... oh, well, let’s not talk about all that.
On the other hand, throw your mind forward, say, thirty years or so and what do you find? You find a Man whose family is from a line of kings, going about saying not that the new kingdom was coming but that it was actually there and – awful discovery – one of His closest followers is an ex-agent of the Roman government, a one-time gatherer of taxes for them, and another is an ex- zealot; that is, belonging to a militant nationalist group whom the authorities condemn as terrorist... and much else besides. That birth day in Bethlehem was the beginning of a very, very interesting time for the religion and politics not just of Israel but of the world. Some of the world was about to be turned on its head. That is part of the real politics of Bethlehem.
On January 6 coming, the day known as Little Christmas, or Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas, a team from Derry will be performing The Politics of Bethlehem and this is what it will be all about. What kind of world was Christ really born into? Who were the terrorists of the time and why should one of them be among the Disciples? This and much more. That’s January 6 in St Mary’s University College, Belfast, at seven o’clock. It lasts about an hour. Why not put it in the diary and so enjoy the real Christmas scene? The real politics of Christ’s Bethlehem. With never a jingle bell in sight.