Christmas Message 2022
A Christmas message from a student of the University
From the Very Rev Dr Jonathan Munn OblOSB, current doctoral student in the Faculty of Theology.
I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different.
Those of you who have been fortunate to hear Benjamin Brittens adaptation of T. S. Eliots Journey of the Magi may have been struck by that line. It comes as a stark realisation by the Magi that they have struggled and struggled and struggled to get to the Birth of the Christ Child and, when they arrive, they realise that somehow this birth is not a happy birth but hard and bitter. They travel in the very dead of winter, with truculent camels, unreliable servants, night fires going out, and having to travel all night while the voices of the darkness taunt them that what they are doing is all folly. This is all folly. This is all folly.
Its a voice that we hear again and again in our lives. It is a voice that can kill our sense of wonder stone dead. Faced with the challenges of simply living, simply continuing from one day to the next, amid the constant distraction and noise from the business of the world around us, to stand and gaze at the canvas of Creation, or to tilt ones head and listen for the music of Eternity seems all folly.
We look at the year just gone, and we see nothing but the same struggle as Eliots Magi. Emerging from behind masks, closed doors and bottles of hand sanitiser, we find ourselves in a world of economic turbulence, political turbulence, social turbulence a strange land in which the old order has been rocked, a new normal has been promised but is amorphous, unsettling and consuming.
Here in the United Kingdom, our society has been shaken by the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth after an unprecedented length of service. The birth of the third Caroline age is precisely the death of the second Elizabethan. As Sir Terry Pratchett observes, the speed of monarchy is faster than the speed of light. Birth and death do not seem to be different to a world in which any effort to stretch out of the darkness is met with disdain from a universe of indifference. The death of one means the birth of a replacement that is all that is needed. The rocking of our lives as we struggle just to become ourselves is met with that same pitiless indifference and our efforts to shine drowned by a barrage of noise that would make Ligeti sound like Bach. This is all folly.
In this darkness, however, something extraordinary happens. In amidst the cacophony of hopelessness, one single voice penetrates with the word hope and is joined by another voice and together, spem in alium nunquam habui! Hope in any other have I none. And from that darkness, emerges a chorus of voices as coaxed out from Eternity by that other British Composer, Thomas Tallis. The taunts of folly cease with that rising tapestry of sound, order, versicle and response based upon that single word jope, a hope that can be expressed most adequately by the voice of a little child in a school play singing, Away in a manger.
The hard and bitter birth met by the Magi is not that of Our Lord. It is the hard and bitter birth of the Magi themselves realising that it is the death of their old selves that is bringing to birth the new. The Baby is the hope they need in order to slough off the skin of the old man and allow the skin of the new to harden in the light of Christ Himself. In one little manger, Man finds the ability to be renewed, saved from the darkness, saved from the indifference of a chaotically mechanical universe and to find warmth, light, strength and joy.
Here, at our university, we are engaged in this constant sloughing off of our old selves in order to embrace truths that are new to us and yet are older that we can know, having their origin before Time itself and yet emanate from the Ever-New in His manger. Christmas means that we can reach out beyond the material universe into Heavenly Realms through the portal of Our Lords Incarnation: God Himself expects nothing less. As scholars and students, it is our duty to use our work to show our brothers and sisters how they can do just that and shine like stars for all Eternity with the Divine Light.
As a student of the University, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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