A Connect discussion led by Mark Stephens.
A last minute change in circumstances meant that we gathered in the lovely Much Hadham Pavilion Cafe instead of our usual venue of the church, which gave an informal bustle feel to the discussion. Mark kicked us off with a few Christmas Jokes to get started.
Why was Jesus’s birth a revelation for Joseph?
Because he’d finally come to his census
How can you tell that the shepherds love wallpaper?
They were always watching their flock by night.
Which angel tells families to play Monopoly at Christmas?
The Angel Islington
Why did Jesus cross the road
To help the man on the other side.
What’s the traditional meat to buy from a supermarket at Christmas?
Jesus’s birth was a bit touch-and-go
Thankfully for most of it, he was in a stable condition.
Why did the wise men bring gold to the stable?
Because they thought the donkey might want some carats.
Why do we sign emails and letters with the letter x? In the middle ages, when many people were unable to read or write, documents were often signed using an X. Kissing the X represented an oath to fulfil obligations specified in the document. The X and the kiss eventually became synonymous.
We also talked about Ai WeiWei, currently exhibiting at the Royal Academy. One installation is a memorial to the children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, “Straight” made from the failed and painstakingly re-straightened steels of government buildings. You can watch a video about the exhibit here.
Another exhibit is the amazing treasure box which takes two people to open it and we thought about what this means at Christmas. This is a parable. We need others to help us.
And then Mark told us the unpublished story of The Teapot by Hans Christian Anderson:
There was a proud Teapot, proud of being made of orcelain, proud of its long spout and its broad handle. It had something in front of it and behind it; the spout was in front, and the handle behind, and that was what it talked about.
But it didn’t mention its lid, for it was cracked and it was riveted and full of defects, and we don’t talk about our defects – other people do that. The cups, the milk jug, the sugar bowl – in fact, the whole tea service – thought much more about the defects in the lid and talked more about it than about the sound handle and the distinguished spout. The Teapot knew this.
“I know them,” it told itself. “And I also know my imperfections, and I realize that in that very knowledge is my humility and my modesty. We all have many defects, but then we also have virtues. The cups have a handle, the sugar bowl has a lid, but of course I have both, and one thing more, one thing they can never have; I have a spout, and that makes me the queen of the tea table. I am the one who gives forth, the adviser. I spread blessings abroad among thirsty mankind. Inside of me the Chinese leaves give flavour to boiling, tasteless water.
This was the way the Teapot talked in its fresh young life. It stood on the table that was prepared for tea and it was lifted up by the most delicate hand. But that most delicate hand was very awkward. The Teapot was dropped; the spout broke off, and the handle broke off; the lid is not worth talking about; enough has been said about that. The Teapot lay in a faint on the floor, while the boiling water ran out of it. It was a great shock it got, but the worst thing of all was that the others laughed at it – and not at the awkward hand because that is the way of the world.
“I’ll never be able to forget that!” said the Teapot, when later on it talked to itself about its past life. “They called me an invalid, and stood me in a corner, and the next day gave me to a woman who was begging for food. I fell into poverty, and was speechless both outside and inside, but as I stood there my better life began. One is one thing and then becomes quite another. People put earth in me, and for a Teapot that’s the same as being buried, but in that earth they planted a flower bulb. Who put it there and gave it to me, I don’t know; but it was planted there, a substitution for the Chinese leaves and the boiling water, the broken handle and spout. And the bulb lay in the earth, inside of me, and it became my heart, my living heart, a thing I never had before. There was life in me; there were power and might; my pulse beat. The bulb put out sprouts; thoughts and feeling sprang up and burst forth into flower. I saw it, I bore it, and I forgot myself in its beauty. It is a blessing to forget oneself when bringing joy to others.
“It didn’t thank me, it didn’t even think of me – everybody admired it and praised it. It made me very happy; how much more happy it must have made the bulb.
“One day I heard them say it deserved a better pot. They broke me in two – that really hurt – and the flower was put into a better pot; then they threw me out into the yard, where I lie as an old potsherd. But I have my memory; that I can never lose!”
We also talked about Pope Francis as we approach the Year of Mercy:
In this hope then we can think of Pope Francis in Rome honouring the tomb of St Paul during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this last January two thousand years after Paul’s house arrest and beheading. I was there at the tomb representing the Archbishop of Canterbury and was accompanied by the Ecumenical Patriarch. In front of four thousand people, in the Basilica of St Pauls Outside the Walls, the Pope took the two of us down to the tomb of St Paul in the centre of the church, and gripping us by the elbows, said words to the effect of “ this is what can bring us together, this is our focus”. The flowering of the gospel that came through St Paul’s life and mission is alive and well and speaking to us now, two thousand years later. Giving up on hope is always wrong.
Then just this last week Pope Francis went on to say
“The Lord asks of us a renewed openness: he asks us not to close ourselves against dialogue and encounter, but rather to accept all that is valid and positive that is offered to us even from those who think differently to us or who adopt different positions. Let us not focus on what divides us, but rather on that which unites us, seeking to know and love Christ better and to share the riches of His love…we are divided against ourselves. However we all have something in common: we believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord… in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We walk together, we are on the same path… let us help each other! Let us receive communion on the way. This spiritual ecumenism: walking the path of life together in our faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.”
This is the faith of St Paul, this is the faith of Pope Francis, this is the faith of the Church.”
We also talked about tangible ways we can keep others in mind – one thing we’d seen was an advent calendar with a difference – instead of taking chocolates out each day; you start with an empty box and add an item of food each day and take it a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve.
We closed with a prayer for the government vote on Syria, praying for a more peaceful world.
That’s something I’m happy to sign off like this