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
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
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
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.