Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas

It occurs to me (and thus, perforce, to those to whom I preach today) that the Bishop who alerted us to the danger of broadcasting a cosy ‘Happy Christmas’ sentiment from within our own cocoons of well being, heedless of how vacuous such unproductive greeting must seem to the distressed, might be helped by the Sermon on the Mount.

The English name ‘The Beatitudes’ picks up the repeated declaration of those who are ‘blessed’. But the word makarios, most often translated ‘blessed’ in these texts, is most often translated ‘happy’ in other texts (‘happy the one who does not lose faith’, ‘happy are you, Simon, because this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood’, ‘happy the servant whose master finds him at work’). The English sense of knowing oneself to be profoundly fortunate could embrace both being joyful about it (happy) and being aware of it as grace (blessed), and there may be no way to unsplice the two in this particular piece of Greek.

So, perhaps the greeting ‘Happy Christmas’ actually turns out to be particularly apposite for the drained, bereaved, hungry and persecuted: ‘it is this incarnation which pledges God’s makarios to you, however irrelevant and vapid the tinsel laden greeting may seem to you at this moment’.

Of course what this (and my Christmas sermon) does not go on to ponder (especially in the year when St Luke’s Gospel is the principal source for our readings with everything from the Magnificat to the woes which follows his version of the Beatitudes) is whether it can then be appropriate for anyone to say ‘Happy Christmas’ to those like me who are wealthy enough, comfortable, well fed, laughing and even respected today.

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