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Childhood’s pattern

20 December 2019

“THAT we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” The eucharistic narrative comes later in the story, however. At the time of the nativity, the Virgin Mary, the theotokos or God-bearer, was the only one who could speak in such terms. The Gospel-writers, all male, had little to say about life in utero, although St Luke records that John the Baptist “leaped” in Elizabeth’s womb when she was greeted by Mary. Mary’s experience was the same as every mother’s: knowing that the child inside her was wholly hers, and yet wholly other. And the birth: no mother enters labour without wanting it to be over quickly. The safe delivery of a child, especially when far away from home and any comforts that it might have afforded, was always going to be a relief. And yet there was a sadness, too. No longer was Mary able to shield her baby from the dangers that abounded. She knew, too, that the future outlined by Gabriel would draw her son away from her. It was a foreshadowing of the parting that she would experience at her son’s crucifixion, about which she was soon to be warned by Simeon. Yet there was a foreshadowing, too, of the resurrection, as Christ, in his infant form, left behind the confines of his prenatal life and drank in the sights, sounds, and smells of a world infinitely richer than the one he had known.

What, then, of Christ? The other aspect of Christ’s life not touched on by the Gospel-writers was the childhood that he was given — wondrous not because of any honouring or obeying he did, but because it can be surmised that he grew as a normal child, away from the eyes of any who might burden him with hostility or adoration. The pattern for this childhood, and for his adult life, was set inside his mother, whose earthly, human love had to substitute for the mystical unity in the Trinity, forged before all worlds. In all the wonders of Christmas, Mary’s nurture and sacrifice remain the second-most wonderful.

Enough balance 

WE WELCOME the nomination of the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, to the archbishopric of York. We are aware of the desires of many to see a woman in the post, or someone else of colour, or a traditionalist, or a northerner; but it is a vain hope to expect the top two posts in England to reflect all aspects of the Church’s demography. This is a challenge more fitting for the College of Bishops. The fact that Bishop Cottrell is not an Etonian, and comes from the Catholic wing, is enough to balance aspects of Canterbury (which the present incumbent would argue were among the least important). Besides, it would be a mistake to view such appointments as a means of satisfying various constituencies. The object is to look outwards, in the knowledge that, for now, the Archbishops can still attract a national hearing. Communicating the truths of Christianity with warmth and integrity is one of the gifts given to the Archbishop-designate. These are qualities valued most particularly in the north; but we look forward to their being exercised on the national stage, not just in the Northern Province.

And finally . . .

MAY we wish our readers, contributors, and advertisers a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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