Last month, I had the privilege of being asked to bring my voice and my guitar to be part of the entertainment at a Revue show being organised by Quintessence, Hunsdon’s amateur dramatic society. If you had heard of Quintessence and were wondering what it was… now you know! Look out for their pantomime in the New Year! Anyway, I was invited to join with them along with representatives of other village organisations in Hunsdon to put on an evening’s entertainment in an attempt to draw the community together. A laudable aim, and one not unlike that of my own “Vicar and Friends” combo which has generally sought to draw village musicians together to entertain their neighbours and friends with live music whilst giving a boost to the corporate life of the community. We live in a moment in history when the “Blitz Spirit” is quite literally dying away as the generation that lived through the War dies away. We still hear news of people rallying round to help one another in times of crisis and adversity – the community response to the recent flooding in Yorkshire is a good example of this – but as a nation, we are becoming generally less community-minded with regard to our local neighbourhoods. We are instead focussing more on other networks and groups in which shared geography is far less important.
Family is an interesting example here. Family has always been important, but because we are generally so much more mobile now than we were previously (thanks to the internal combustion engine), our families are often dispersed. Our parents, siblings, cousins and children are not in the next street as part of our village, but in the next town, the next county, or even in another country. Keeping up with relatives now means either travelling to meet them or spending time indoors face-timing them online. Both of these activities take us away from our immediate neighbours. In addition to this, we generally work further from home than before, so our commutes are longer, with the result that there is less “day” left at the end of the working day for us to share with others beyond the four walls of our homes. Going out to meet people on a cold winter’s evening doesn’t always appeal when we’re tired, especially when the ever-present TV and internet provides instant entertainment that demands nothing of us – we don’t even need to get out of the chair to change channels these days, and as voice-activated “smart” homes become more common, we’ll get used to Alexa drawing the curtains for us (so we won’t even see people passing on the street!).
The Christian message of Christmas tells of how God came to earth in the person of Jesus – from the glory of heaven to the squalor of a stable – in order to build a new community. Indeed, he came to draw people into his family. Not for him the easy life of hanging out with his own behind his own front door – he travelled the country proclaiming a message of radical love, facing down the self-righteous and offering hope to the broken. He gave his life for the sake of others – to win them for God. He didn’t call individuals to stay individuals, or groups of people to mingle only with others like them. He called all kinds of people to be one family united in his love. He called them to grow together in love, with his supreme sacrifice as their model and inspiration. This Christmas, may I encourage you to ponder God’s amazing love and join with the community events that celebrate it?