john davies
notes from a small curate

    Reflected Glory

    Holy Trinity Christmas Midnight Communion 24/12/02

    Luke 2.1-14

    I was looking at Friends Reunited the other day; you know the way you do at Christmas-time when you hear from a long-lost schoolmate and wonder how the rest of the class of 1978 are doing now.

    And one ex-classmate had posted there on the internet for all to see, a photograph of himself. Older, balder, chubbier than twenty-five years ago, but still recognisably him. The photo was taken at one of our local football grounds, and also on the picture was one of this city's - indeed, this country's - most celebrated sportsmen. He was shaking my ex-classmate's hand. Underneath the photo this guy from school had written the caption: "Me, and my mate Duncan Ferguson."

    I wondered, why had he chosen that particular picture to display to the world? Why not a photo of him and his young family, for instance, or of him and his old Mum? Why had he chosen a snapshot of a one-off encounter with someone whose face he knew but who wasn't really his 'mate' at all?

    Reflected glory. That's why. It's something we all like to bask in when and where we can. Showing the world that we have contact with the rich and famous, the successful, that we have friends in high places. It makes us feel better about our humble selves if we can do it.

    Seeing that photo, it was all I could do to stop myself digging out the one of me and Bono from the day I met U2. Or to dust off the file of interviews I did as a writer on a student newspaper, featuring me and Chris Bonington, me and Anthony Quayle, me and John Williams, John Peel, Fatboy Slim.

    See, I'm at it now - and I've probably got you thinking, too, whose reflected glory have you basked in over the years? Whose company has made you feel special on those one-off occasions you met? You've probably all got a memory like that to share. You can tell me on the way out tonight.

    The Christmas story which we know so well, is also about reflected glory.

    The shepherds basked in it - the glory shining around the angels wasn't just a bright, blinding light as it's so often portrayed, it was an astonishing sense of the greatness of God whose message the angels were bringing. Suddenly these ordinary working men had something to boast about for the rest of their days - they'd been with not just any old celebrity - they'd been with God that evening.

    They're on the list of humble folk who rose to the top of the 'world's most famous', because of the reflected glory of God that day. Joseph was another one, a joiner from the suburbs. Simeon and Anna were two others, faithful old churchgoers. Mary, of course, the most celebrated teenage pregnancy of all. As she put it so well herself, "He has lifted up the lowly".

    The celebrities of the day were the Roman caesars and local governors. Augustus, Quirinius, Herod. But even their names only survive now because of their association with the birth of Jesus.

    God sneaked in, in the most modest possible position, and of the Hundred Greatest Bethlehemites of AD Zero, only those who took part in his humble story remain in our minds today, basking in his reflected glory.

    You can probably see where this talk is heading - towards the conclusion that we, too, can bask in the reflected glory of God, that it's the best, most fulfilling place to be. It's what can truly define us and give meaning to our lives. I won't labour the point; it's getting late.

    But I'd like you to think about this over Christmas - how do you identify yourself? What makes you feel good about yourself? Do you sometimes get like me needing to boast about the celebrities I've met, about the income, the career, the influential friends, the successful children? And if you do, and that's all that you have - is that enough?

    Some TV pundits have dubbed 2002 the year of the rise of 'Cruel Comedy'. They're talking about series like The Office, Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights and I'm Alan Partridge. They're saying that the popularity of those shows is because we're fed up of so-called celebrities. We're not impressed any more with so-called success.

    We've watched Celebrity Big Brother and we know that underneath all the hype, people like the PopStars are just like us. We're not keen to bask in their reflected glory because - well, it's lost its shine.

    By contrast, The Office and its ilk are about the struggles of everyday people who we can relate to. As one writer put it:
      ... the quiet, ordinary desperation of Tim, Dawn and David Brent holds ... power. They're not going to be plucked from their everyday drudgery and made into stars. They have to resign themselves to their fates or fight tooth and nail for a dirty scrap of happiness. Like the rest of us.

      So, even if we're laughing at them, it's the uneasy relief of escaping from the relentless torrent of success and celebrity that makes it so compelling.

    Putting it crudely, David Brent, Alan Partridge, you and I are today's shepherds. This Christmas, we're not necessarily looking for a great and holy sign, we're just looking to get by. We've got wise to the limitations of reflected glory.

    But we're here tonight. For all sorts of reasons. And maybe we're here partly because we retain a sense that this old place and these ancient stories still hold some substance for us. Some clues about who we really are and who we can be.

    Maybe we're ready to discover - or rediscover - what it means to bask in the reflected glory of God.