Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Snobbish Ox and a Question: What is the Christmas Religion?

“The Snobbish Ox” by Albert Q Perry

 “My favourite Christmas story concerns the rather snobbish ox who shared the stable with the family from Nazareth.  With considerable amazement he witnessed the visits of shepherds and the strangers from the East: heard all the talk about stars and angelic choruses; and finally watched Mary and Joseph flee with their son.

For days the other animals could talk of nothing but their human guests while the ox silently chewed his cud over in a dark corner.  Finally he reproved his companions with this reflection:  “I don’t know why they are so interested in this vagabond family.  If they had been anybody worth knowing, they would never have stayed in this broken down shack.  As for the baby,--it was very like any other baby I ever saw. They were ordinary people, I would say. Very ordinary people indeed!”

Oxen are long lived creatures, and this one proved to be the Methuselah of his kind.  He was still around thirty odd years later to witness the dismal end of the stable-born child.  He then remarked to his companions, “I knew it at the time.  That chap was of no account.  He was the ordinary son of some ordinary people.”

Then it was the donkey who had carried Jesus many interesting miles spoke up to say:  “Perhaps you are right.  This man may have had a humble birth and a humiliating death; an ordinary birth and an ordinary death for such people, but he certainly led an extraordinary life.”

Regardless of how we react to this story, it contains a hint as to how our Christmas may become significant.  Most of us can confess to being even more ‘ordinary’ than the family from Nazareth, but our Christmas season may be a time of extraordinary living.  Unusual neighbourliness, unusual generosity, unusual expressions of love, and unusual attention to things of the spirit are all fitting tribute to bring to the stable-born one, who became the spiritual guide to many.  May the Christmas season thereby, bring extra-ordinary grandeur to our otherwise ordinary lives.”

I recently came across the above meditation by Albert Q Perry, I do love got me thinking about Christmas and what the message of that baby born in ordinary circumstances, but who lived an extraordinary life, is all about and what it could possible mean to us living 2,000 years later. It's not the virgin birth or whether he was the one and only Immanuel that matters to me. What I  I am interested in is what lies there beneath the story and what his life and teachings can offer to us. I am interested in looking at a different religion of Christmas.

Happy Christmas by the way...hope you’ll enjoy a wonderful and wonder filled day.

Christmas is the season for giving and for getting, but surely this ought not to be limited to the material life. It is not only about what we get from others or what we give to them. It is also about forgiving and forgetting. It is a time of reconciliation and not merely a time for giving and getting goodies, a time of wanton materialism. There is a bigger difference between "for giving and for getting" and forgiving and forgetting" than the space between the "r" and the "g".

Christmas is a time to put aside past differences and to let bygones be bygones; a time to heal old wounds and of course new ones too. Radical inclusion and acceptance is the true message of Christmas. To me this is what religion is all about. Religion is about how we live in community with others and not merely an idea or belief system. 

Radical inclusion and acceptance is the true spirit of Christmas. 

How though do we bring this spirit, of radical inclusion and acceptance, into our lives, right here right now? How do we bring the spirit of Christmas into our homes and communities today and for that matter every day? How do we create a Christmas religion? Where is Christmas hidden under all those ribbons and bows and songs and merriments?

Well I believe it is still to be found in that story of the ordinary boy, born in that lowly stable. The message of radical inclusion and forgiveness has survived the centuries. The message that Jesus brought to us has survived all that we have done to it over the last two thousand years.

Jesus in his short life taught only love, Agape, spiritual love. By the way he was not unique in teaching this, it is a universal principle found in all the great faith traditions. It is this love, that is there within each and every one of us, that has the power to transform our hearts and souls and brings us into harmony with all creation and that power that runs through all of life, that I call God.

This is the message of Christmas, the religion of Christmas, the expression of faith, hope, love and of course joy. These are the qualities that need to be brought into this day and every day in order to bring to life the Christmas magic.  If we feel, think, speak and act through these qualities we can connect heart to heart and break down those old cold barriers. I discovered some time ago that this universal language of the heart can break through any barrier, created by fear and resentment. This is the religion of Christmas.

There have been times in my life when I have been cut off from those I have loved and those who have loved me. Today I do as much as I can to ensure that this is no longer the case. I will travel to Yorkshire after leading worship on Christmas morning and visit several family members and old friends too. I will no doubt travel to and from Yorkshire several times over the next few days as I try to take care of those connections, those lifelines that support me. If I have learnt anything in my life I have learnt that I need loving connection. This is the Christmas message, the building and development of compassionate connection. This is the religion of Christmas.

It is a message of hope that is found there in the Christmas stable in that ordinary boy born from an ordinary family who did extraordinary things in his short life. This is surely an inspiration to us all, for we all possess within us, what was also in that boy. All that we have to do to incarnate that reality is to bring that love into our daily lives; we can bring that hope found in the stable into our daily lives. This is a message of hope that does indeed bring glad tidings of comfort and joy. This is the religion of Christmas?

Love begins within our own hearts and incarnates through our thoughts words and deeds, until it touches others. It spreads to our friends and families, our communities, our countries and throughout our world. These concentric circles of compassion are the religion of Christmas. This message pre-dates the Christmas story; a message spoken of by Confucius two and half thousand years ago; a message of loving compassion expressed by all the great sages of human history. To bring it to life all that we need do is remember that we have that love within us and that it can be developed if we would only nurture it. This is the religion of Christmas.

My simple Christmas message to myself and anyone who cares to listen is to let the religion of Christmas be at the centre of all we do this day and in all the days yet to come. Let us bring this love into all that we feel and all that we think and all that we do from this day forward and in all our days to come.

I wish you a joy filled Christmas and a New Year full of love.


  1. Excellent! This is the sort of thing I meant when I suggested on the facebook group about articulating our theology :)

  2. Thank you...people do read this and speak to me about my blog...we've had a couple of new people here at Altrincham as a result