View from the Rectory - December 2019 & January 2020




The switching on of the Downing Street Christmas tree lights is a well established December custom. For the Prime Minister  it affords pleasant respite from the daily grind of government, an opportunity to share something of the excitement of the season with local schoolchildren and other onlookers. I can’t remember the exact date of the switch-on but it may be that Boris Johnson flicks the switch without knowing whether or not he will be there long enough to enjoy the lights. We have to look back to the early 20th C for examples of  December general  elections and in those days  they were conducted in a much more leisurely fashion. The election of December 1905 began in the second week of the month but the count wasn’t concluded until January 1906! The outgoing Conservative incumbent, Arthur Balfour, had plenty of time to enjoy the festivities and mourn his loss, while the Liberal leader, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was content to wait for his triumphal entry into  Downing Street. Christmas and New Year  had priority over mere politics. Not so now. If a majority government is elected the Prime Minister will surely want to impress with a sense of urgency  driven partly by election promises to resolve our current crisis quickly, but also by fear of being  considered hesitant or uncertain. Christmas dinner may well be turkey sandwiches around the  cabinet table. But a worse scenario would be a hung parliament with the whole of the Christmas holiday consumed by negotiation, intrigue and feverish speculation as to the shape and shade of the government about to be formed.

I well remember the time in my early teens when a former prime minister, Harold Macmillan, emerged from 20 years of retirement and virtual seclusion from public life. On the recommendation of Margaret Thatched he had been raised to the peerage – the last hereditary creation – becoming the 1st  Earl of Stockton. Strange as it seems now, MacMillan’s resurgence was, to those of my generation who were interested, like a ghostly visitation from a bygone era. This man who’d come to power in the wake of historical events such as Suez, and had guided us through the Cuban Missile Crisis, which we  were already studying in A level history, was suddenly back after years of silence. And when he spoke in the House of Lords his ideas and attitudes seemed to be those of a different age.  He was critical of Mrs. Thatcher for her unrelenting approach to work and suggested that the governance of the country would benefit from the Prime Minister adopting a more relaxed approach and taking time out to read Jane Austen and enjoy the gardens of No.10.  The advice was not well received but was much enjoyed by those commentators who could foresee the emergence of this so-called 24/7 world in which we now live. At the same time a future Bishop of London, David Hope, lamented the coming of Sunday trading. His parish included much of Oxford Street and he reflected how on those once quiet Sundays it was as if the buildings themselves were able to breathe again. 

Whatever happens nationally and internationally during the latter part of December it is important that we don’t allow it to stifle knowledge of a peace much greater than that which human beings have contrived in their wisdom and surrendered in their folly.  The country might well be in chaos, and many parts of the world in turmoil, but the promise  of Christmas is an enduring one.  In the most humble of ways, as a new born child, God shared the vulnerability of our human state. Born in a stable, hunted by a tyrant, forced to flee to a foreign land, his story echoes down the ages and has many resonances today. And whilst it is easily sentimentalised, we must remember that it’s real culmination is in the cross and resurrection, suffering that became the basis of that true and eternal peace which passes all understanding.  This is God’s wonderful gift to us and one that endures in all circumstances of life both good and bad. The celebration of Christmas affords a particular opportunity to reflect upon that gift and to receive it anew by the grace of the Holy Spirit. So it is important that we honour and   defend the season from Christmas Eve at least until the Epiphany (6th January) resisting the pressure to surrender it quickly to the demands of the so-called real world. For some, and this year it may include those treading the corridors of Whitehall,  this may not be possible. All the more important then that we hold them in our prayers never doubting that the peace which sustains us will ultimately draw the kingdoms of this world into the life of The Kingdom that is yet to be revealed.

May God’s peace be with you this Christmastime.



Charles Booth


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