The spaces where the Humber Bridge is earthed are fenced off and touch is denied. As you can see with the prominent red warning signs and iron railings, access is prohibited to the actual spot where earth and north tower meet. Here the construction goes deep below ground level to anchor the bridge in bedrock and, on each side of the bridge, out of sight and ‘access prohibited’ too, the suspension cable is bolted into solid rock. These and other security measures protect the bridge from unwanted human curiosity, interference or attack.
This is a visual metaphor for the worst aspects of a 21st Century Christmas.
Festive celebrations in today’s British culture transport us across the Christmas event with little or no real regard to the faith-bridge which is the reason for the season. Like a winter fog enveloping the span and obscuring anything but the immediate roadway from view, or the warning signs and railings below, our mix of nostalgia, religious indifference and commercialism seems to prevent many of us from seeing and touching the amazing structure which holds the whole celebration aloft. We get glimpses, brief insights of something quite extraordinary, and then they are gone. All too soon we are on the other side of Christmas.
Religion too does not always help matters. Language, practices, customs, traditions and the paraphernalia of being and doing church can paradoxically keep out and deny access to the very people that are intended to indwell the Christmas experience as an all year round reality. The place where divine love gets down to earth in the dirt, mess and muddle of our being human is holy ground. The Godly reality which towers over all that is turns out to be anchored under your feet and mine, held fast within the detail of your story and mine and the bedrock of love incarnate in Jesus, not in a particular building, tradition or emerging expression. Here, right within the everyday moments of our daily living, we can reach out and be in-touch with God. Here we can know for ourselves the experience which keeps the whole religious edifice upright: God plunging way down into our pained and confused reality in order to anchor our foundations in grace and love and to build a bridge to a more just and hopeful future for all.
Christmas is about unlimited access for all to God’s in-touch love as God bridges the gap which would keep us apart. Time and again Cheryl Lawrie’s quite superb blog really brings this truth home to me, anchored as it so often is in the down to earth reality of ministry in prison. In a recent post she writes this:
it occurred to me again how weird it is that we are guided in our theology by those with doctorates, rather than by those who rely on the theology for their survival…..at christmas we are reminded that God is born from the womb of an unmarried middle eastern girl, not from the head of a middle-class, educated western theologian. And I wonder why, at christmas, we don’t search out more unmarried pregnant middle eastern girls to hear what God is doing now…
I was reminded again of that in the prison last week – it’s the conversion i always have there. I could quite happily do without faith, myself. And I’d really rather not have it. But I’m convicted of its necessity by the people who rely on it simply to survive. And they are the ones who remind me what God can and can’t do. They disabuse me of my fantasies and clever thoughts. And the best i can hope i offer is that God is made real in the space between us when we do the things that faith does.
If we take the Christmas story seriously then I think we will discover within it that selfsame theology of survival and will ourselves be drawn close to the ones in whom and amongst whom God is at work today. Access unlimited.