THERE can’t be many of us who do not hope that there is a purpose for us written in the heavens. Throughout human history, events and dynasties were believed to be imagined in heaven before they happened on earth.
After his assassination, Julius Caesar was proclaimed as being elevated to the warrior gods of Imperial Rome, vindicating his success as a military general.
As recently as 1997, apricot and pear trees fruiting out-of-season were seen as a heavenly mandate for the succession of Kim John-il as ruler of North Korea.
The version in our own country is the conviction that our monarch rules by divine permission.
The birth stories of Jesus carry signs from heaven: divine conception, angels and a star are seen as signposts to a sacred plan. Stories of divine favour are everywhere in human history, how do we choose between them?
We tend to believe one story over another if it describes people like us, or where the story has us as it’s beneficiary.
Empires will espouse a god which has bestowed on them the right to plunder, or wage war on, inferior nations.
Rich Christians inhabit a story of God which understands their prosperity as a blessing, while not asking too closely where that prosperity comes from.
The portents in heaven in the Christmas stories reflect a heaven which is responding to a people made poor under imperial rule.
Mary sings of her conception: “The Almighty has done great things for me . . . . he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
The affluent will domesticate Christmas, relegating it firmly to their childhood, as it poses hard question about where God’s preferences lie. It’s beneficiaries, those for whom life has been neither just nor kind, will see it as a sign of hope that they are favoured in heaven.
Revd Andrew Spurr
Vicar of Evesham