In the Bleak Midwinter


On November l4th l940, the Luftwaffe bombed Coventry, reducing its ancient Cathedral to rubble – one of the Baedeker raids, in which German pilots were directed to places of particular cultural significance or beauty in order to destroy them. On Christmas Day, the provost broadcast to the world that the people of Coventry would try to forgive the barbarians for this act of pure evil, and the cathedral choir sang The Coventry Carol, among the ruins of their once beautiful House of God.

But bear in mind that Coventry was avenged, the barbarians acknowledged as such, and destroyed. The cathedral didn’t reopen as a meeting place for Hitler Youth. Forgiveness is not surrender.

On a morning of waking to the now-daily news of attacks upon the civilised world by barbarians – barbarians of an ilk who were favourites of the barbarians who bombed Coventry and who share similar aims – the Coventry Carol rings especially poignant.

It mourns and wonders for the tiny baby, the “poor youngling” hunted and persecuted by a vicious Middle Eastern potentate who is prepared to slaughter countless innocents to preserve and enlarge his own corrupt power.

The baby Jesus – voice of the humble, helpless, born in a homeland under occupation by an alien power, bringer of a message of truth, hope, love and joy which needs no obfuscation by ‘scholars’ to make it palatable, no blind eyes turned by the wilfully idiotic, and which cannot be “misinterpreted” to demand that those opposing it die horribly – is the perfect metaphor for Christianity now.

In at least fifty countries, most of them Islamic, it is lethal to live by the teachings of the young existentialist who that helpless baby grew to be. In African nations when Islam has taken hold, Christians are slaughtered on the steps of their churches, as they go in love to worship innocence.

And even where we owe our moral code, our literature, and our rights to the teachings of that young man, Christianity is betrayed to comply with a faith for which Herod serves as the perfect metaphor.

The Citadel itself, Jerusalem, has just been denied by a now morally defunct interest group – the United Nations – in order to surrender it to a gaggle of terrorists beloved of the kind of people who never took their red-and-black Che Guevara print off the bedroom wall.

And in Europe Christians are slaughtered, terrorised, abused now daily, our icons considered prey, as savages who are incapable of understanding light, or joy, rage and froth against those who have, so unwisely, taken them in, and the doctrines which inform them are defended and excused by those who prefer to pretend that a war-lord is capable of bringing Peace on Earth.

The young man Jesus had a particular dislike for hypocrisy, which we are now bombarded with on a daily basis.

Like many Christian festivals, Christmas in Northern and Western Europe was superimposed on traditional beliefs and practices long dictated by nature and the seasons. In the bleak mid-winter, the body slows as the year winds down like an old clock.  The days are short, dark and cold, the mind sluggish. What can be better than to snuggle in shelter with those we love best: eat, drink, huddle around whatever source of heat we have, play games to cheer us as the dawn seems hardly to have broken before it is dusk again?

And into this ancient way of life, came the epitome of joy, light and hope: a new-born baby, perfect, honest and innocent as the green shoots which will show above the frozen earth when the year has turned, and the days begin to lengthen.

Give or take a bit of technology, we, the seasons, and the message, haven’t changed.

Now – isn’t that worth defending?

Merry Christmas, everybody.