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Turn Jesus right side up

28 February 2014

The Church must tell of a Saviour who is at home in our cities as well as the suburbs, says James Jones

ALTHOUGH we celebrate the birth of the Church at Pentecost, I have always thought that the nativity was a serious rival. This was the first gathering to worship Christ. Anyone looking to the future of the Church should keep this scene clearly in their rear-view mirror.

The characters of the nativity give clues to the character of an authentic Christian community. Here, a woman feeds the body of Christ, which is a priestly and episcopal vocation. If a woman can feed the body of Jesus in the flesh, she can surely feed the body of Christ in the Spirit. A Church where women, with men, minister with unqualified authority and opportunity will best express the human face of God, in whose image both women and men are equally created.

To the nativity came seekers from the East: they were not the most obvious candidates to worship Christ first, and their presence was a sign of a God without frontiers. The Christian community was never to be defined by nationality.

The point was reinforced by the adult Christ, whose cleansing of the Temple was not so much a rant against commercialism as a rage against racism: "My house shall be for all races." The Church of England, a Church of and for the nation, has yet to express the diversity of the country and become "a house of prayer for all races".

The coming of the shepherds proves to me the historicity of the story. Nobody would choose such disreputable rogues to endorse their message. Their presence signalled God's bias to the poor, with whom Mary's child would share his life.

But have you ever wondered why, in the time of Jesus, the working classes flocked to him, and the middle classes shunned him? And why, in our day, the middle classes fill our suburban churches, and the working classes give him a wide berth? An exaggeration, I know, but with enough to it to make us ask what we have done to Jesus to turn him on his head. An authentic Church of the future must look for genuine growth in the leafless landscapes.

THAT first gathering around Jesus saw him lying in a manger. The angels gave clues to find him: "A child wrapped in bands of cloth" - hardly a distinguishing feature for a baby. But "lying in a manger" is unusual and resonant. For he, in his own words, would one day say that he was bread, fodder for life.

There was a risk in putting a child in a feeding trough, presumably with animals around. Yet his lying there beckoned a coming world of new relationships between all God's creatures, where, to the surprise of shepherds, even the wolf and the lamb would lie down together.

An authentic Church will express a new attitude to creation in which "all things have come into being through and for Christ."

These are some of the fresh expressions of an authentic Church of the future.

The Rt Revd James Jones was formerly the Bishop of Liverpool, and now advises the Home Secretary on Hillsborough, and Waitrose on corporate social responsibility.

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