Weekly Column

10,000 years or more

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To Malmesbury Abbey for the absolutely lovely- and very moving- Nine Lessons and Carols service. Packed and cheerful congregation, ‘sweet singing in the choir’ all of the best carols and presided over in his usual wonderful style by Revd Oliver Ross. I was given the first reading (which let me enjoy the rest of the service!) It’s the description of the Creation from Genesis Chapter 1, verse 1. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth…” Scholarly opinion varies about when Moses wrote it - but 10 to 15000 years ago seems a reasonable estimate. Later readers gave out the New Testament story- of Christ’s birth, the Shepherds, the wise men. “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”.

Is it not wonderful - amazing – that the world comes to a standstill in commemoration of that event. Universal holidays, tinsel, puddings, mulled wine and carols. Perhaps decreasingly few of us realise the true significance of Christmas; but that doesn’t stop it being celebrated by one and all in every corner of the earth. Not only that, but the finest architecture (Gothic cathedrals, 1300 year old Malmesbury Abbey itself and lovely little parish churches like those scattered across Wiltshire and Gloucestershire); the greatest music (who does not shed a tear at “I know that my Redeemer Liveth” from Handel’s Messiah); the greatest literature (The King James Bible, Cranmer’s Prayer Book) – all of these things come from Christianity. From the belief that Jesus Christ was born, lived and died for us. We live in a cynical, a sceptical, an atheist or at least agnostic world. And it is not my place to try to persuade anyone of anything. I leave that to the vicar, as he leaves politics to me.

But whether you believe it all or not, is it not astonishing that the baby in the manger should have had such an effect on the history, literature, art, way of life, of a large part of the world, for some 2000 years and more. Compare that to political beliefs, events, structures. No Empire has lasted more than a few hundred years; no political dogma for more than a few decades. We worry about the next election, and what we will do to win it; we rejoice in a few points off inflation; we are fussed about potholes and street lighting. We fight our wars, kill each other, get ourselves in a proper muck sweat over things which are insignificant pieces of fluff in the broad spectrum of history.

That great carol, which we sang in Malmesbury ‘It came upon a midnight clear” says it all.

“With the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; Beneath the angel strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring; Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing. For lo! the days are hast’ning on, by prophet bards foretold; when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold. When peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling, and the whole world will give back the song which now the angels sing.”

Our great statesmen have a lot to learn from that 2000 year perhaps 15,000 year piece of history.

With my best wishes to you all for a Very Happy Christmas.

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James Gray
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Published Date
December 22, 2023