Last Friday saw me in Ormskirk town centre for the grand Christmas lights switch-on. Sharing a stage with the mayor, Black Lace (of Agadoo fame) and the town’s clergy was at the very least a novel experience.
The town centre is transformed into something of a fair ground for the 2 or 3 hours that the event lasts, with stage acts competing with hot dog stalls and an assortment of rides and other attractions for the public’s attention. Fake snow – though it was cold enough that night for real stuff – spewed from above the stage below which a Father Christmas clone was trying to keep the crowd entertained. And into all that, just prior to the grand switch-on, there is a short carol service with a Christmas message – which this year fell to me.
Enter Godbaby – he cries, he wees, he saves the world. Developed in an attempt to provoke thought and conversation about the true meaning of Christmas, particularly for those outside church, this image has had a mixed reception. It seems that the longer a person has been in church, the less likely they are to approve of it, whereas those new to faith love it. Outside church, some just don’t get it, others find it amusing, and a few think it highly irreverent. But it certainly does provoke comment.
I like it. Jesus was fully human, born with all the human frailty of a new-born babe. Never mind the “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” of one of our favourite carols – Jesus would have filled his lungs and communicated his needs to his mother and the rest of the world within earshot in the same way as any other baby. And filled his “swaddling clothes” too, or whatever equivalent to the nappies of today existed at that time.
But unlike some of the dolls that will end up under Christmas trees this year and which can do no more than cry and wee, the baby Jesus grew to become the man Jesus, the one who was to save the world. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of the Messiah. But his birth cannot be divorced from his life and death, the reasons that led to his birth. Christmas is the beginning, not the end, and can never be understood in isolation from the life that followed, his death and resurrection, and an appreciation of just what God was doing for us in the person of the baby whose birth we are celebrating.
So I finished my bit on Godbaby, another carol was sung, the mayor gave his address, the countdown began – and the lights were switched on. My own prayer is that, for someone in the crowd that night at least, lights might have been switched on on the inside too.