Thinking Anglicans points us to some terrible bishop sermons from this time of year.
Referring to John's gospel, the Bishop of Oxford sermonised against the Bethlehem approach and for the big picture:
This is no small town deity pushed to the edge and trying to get a mention in the weekly newspaper. This is the God whose light has been travelling towards us from the Big Bang for 13.7 billion years at a speed 186,000 miles per second.
So the cosmic becomes the literally cosmic, as so often the nativity myth is mined as if history-like.
The Bishop of Lincoln tells of a get together for clergy doing Christmas sermons (I bet that was real fun):
The group divided itself into two parts-those who favoured the topical approach and those who opted for something more traditional.
The topical preachers shared plans about how they could liven up their sermons to show that the church is trendy and up to date...
People like me could be forgiven for using the same old words, because at its heart, it's the same old and wonderful story.
We don't know what was in the minds of the shepherds that first Christmas Eve. We know that they were a group of tough manual workers-perhaps like farm workers or building-site labourers today. They had left home to go out to work on a dark, cold winter's night.
And yet out of the darkness came something totally unexpected and frightening-something so magnificent and powerful that it challenged them to leave their sheep, their livelihood, to find out more. ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened'.
And of course this happens for us as well - think of the family...
[For which he gives a contemporary example to liven up his sermon.]
The Bishop of Bradford was into literalisms too. In an otherwise sensible sermon about oppression around the world he veered off into the silly:
Thank goodness that the people of Egypt welcomed to themselves the Holy Family on the run from King Herod’s furious infanticide.
And then, in the church:
Nothing better expresses what we believe about God here with us than our sharing in this Eucharist tonight. Jesus is here in the crib and he will be here on this table in the form of bread and wine.
Here's a rough comparison from another appalling sermon, the Bishop of Norwich:
There are lots of reasons to be afraid in the Christmas story. Who wouldn’t be afraid away from home with nowhere to stay and about to give birth? Who wouldn’t be afraid when there was a despot like King Herod around?
He wasn’t above murdering members of his own family if he took a dislike to them, the sort of thing that’s gone on in North Korea in our world today only a couple of weeks ago. The Christmas story is very up to date.
There's no comparison: one is a myth without foundation and the other is a nasty and actual little power struggle where power and terror are used against an absence of authority.
This also works both ways. The myth gaining its power in the contemporary shows that the myth is current-dependent for its power, yet these salesmen of a religion all claim dependence in the myth itself.
The Bishop of Beverley was in his sort of non-home of a minster near me (he's not a geographical bishop but a roaming one who supports those who can't accept women priests as priests) and he hasn't been paying attention:
But the word which the Oxford Online Dictionary nominated as its word of 2013 was ‘selfie’: defined as
a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.
Even the coverage of the funeral of Nelson Mandela was dominated by a selfie, as the Danish Prime Minister posed with David Cameron and Barak Obama. The selfie says: ‘Look at me. Look what I’m doing. Look who I’m with’. They are fun.
No it wasn't. It was dominated by a man waving his arms about who'd obviously applied for a job as a deaf signer and was accepted without anyone ever checking he was qualified.
He was probably at the nativity with hand movements saying, "Animals above, birds came with the birders, stars in your ice; read the tea leaves tomorrow; good moaning."
Chelmsford had one last statistic:
One saviour born in a stable at Bethlehem. Countless millions of people saved. A whole world changed.
Well, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. What happened? Did I miss it?
Gloucester also mixed reality and metaphors; All the homeless, but one deliberate homeless:
That’s what Christmas is all about, the messy mix, in which God in Jesus Christ chose to live, born on Christmas Day, to inhabit the mix, to share the mess and to make a stupendous difference. Yes, because he was God with us, one homeless child at Christmas was the sign of love and the source of salvation.
No wonder this religion is in trouble. Some of its chief advocates tie themselves in rhetorical knots and add a 'donkey' into the nativity - and I can hear the comparison now between a donkey and a deity.