Christmass Midnight 2018—24 December 2018
Revd Martin Johnson
Are we becoming more divided? It's a question that many are asking in the commentariat. The responses are varied, but whilst there are those who feel connected today by among other things, the wonder of social media, there are those who feel isolated. It is perhaps in politics and economics that we feel division the greatest. During the year we have heard much of the loony left and the hard right!
The psychologists also tell us that we are increasingly becoming polarised! And more and more folk seem to drifting to the left that is the left side their brains! The psychiatrist and literary scholar Iain McGilchrist argues that we in the modern West, increasingly rely upon - and, indeed, overvalue - the precision and clarity of left-brain activity: it is predominantly on this, left, side of the brain that neurological states associated with cool analysis and executive decisions reside.
The right in contrast, has the capacity to replenish, enrich and re-invigorate our cultural imagination by means of meditation, prayer, dream, myth, ritual, music and poetry. Without it McGilchrist writes we shrink and die, without it we are cut adrift from all that truly sustains us and inexorably the left brain too ceases, in time, to perform as it should.
After this extraordinary year in business and politics I am beginning to see the truth in all this. Extraordinarily competent, clever people, left brain types, have been found wanting this year. They have been cut adrift from what really matters, what truly nourishes and sustains the stuff of the right brain which gives meaning to the left. Our gathering tonight has all the hallmarks of engaging our right brains!
We heard this evening of the heavenly host, proclaiming the arrival of the Christ child. Your left brain might be tempted to reject this, visions of divine, winged beings is more than your rational, left brain, self can cope with! But think again, are these creatures, these messengers bearers of the inner spiritual aspect of political and economic forces. 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!' What peace your left brain might very well say! Whilst your right hears saviour, joy and shalom. Your right brain hears shalom, shalom this is justice, equity, health, wholeness and salvation, the stuff of the great Christian narrative. The narrative that says we are not captive to economic and political forces beyond our control. The forces of Augustus and Quirinius, forces that once again have been found wanting during 2018.
Tonight is no carols by candlelight we are not here to be entertained, this is Liturgy, we are working, we have brought into church our left brain cynicism, our own agendas, prejudices, fatalism and pettiness and we engage, commune, worship, dream and pray, the stuff of our right brains.
Now I am not asking you to undergo a "suspension of disbelief," or collapse into a sort of naive fundamentalism, we don't do that here at St Philip's; but I hope that through Scripture, music, prayer and sacrament we might glimpse a new form of consciousness. A space is created in which we can respond to certain realities which defy left-brain literalism. Tonight we are called to stretch our ways of thinking to open us onto new realities, new realms of joy and hope. Indeed 'realms of glory' as the carol goes!
Some of may have noticed that I love all this stuff! I don't think I have a left brain! But I am well aware that this right brain reflection must thrust us out into the real world. And I am more than aware of what awaits us! Because in the birth of Jesus not only do we see the coming of love in the world, we see all the coming drama of Jesus's life and death, of darkness and its resistance. In Matthew's gospel we see the flight into Egypt, the menacing presence of Herod, the death of the holy Innocents; we see in these events the refugee crisis own our own time, atrocities in warfare and a new resurgence of authoritarianism. And so this right-brain reflection and musing must be the means of new ethical strength and resolve as we embark on a new year.
With these issues ever present, it is all too easy to allow cynicism to rule in our hearts and it is true there is much for us to be cynical about. But I hope and pray that we can give our right brains a little more free rein in the coming year because the birth of Christ calls upon us to see everything anew, absolutely everything.
Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span!
Summer in winter! day in night!
Heaven in earth! and God in man!
Great little One, whose all-embracing birth,
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.
A very happy and holy Christmas to you all. Amen.