“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of the people”Luke 2:10
The word “bloke” was very popular when I was growing up in England. Being a bloke when I was young tended to mean particular things – a bloke was a person from a particular background who lived a particular lifestyle. A bloke was a blue collar worker who went off to his work every morning with his box of sandwiches. He lived in a council house with his wife and three kids. He had garden or allotment where he grew vegetables. He was a member of a trade union and always voted Labour. He did the football pools every week and read the Daily Mirror. He went to football on Saturday afternoons and went fishing on Sunday. The family went to a caravan in south Devon on their holidays. He was a proud man, a good man, a decent man; if you met him down the pub he would buy you a pint of bitter. He would be happy to talk but, being English, two subjects were barred – religion and politics.
The man I have described is the sort of person I knew when I was young. My Dad was a man in “bloke” mode. We lived in a council house we had bought. He went off to work in blue overalls at seven o’clock every morning. He grew Home Guard potatoes in the back garden. He was a member of the Electricians’ Trade Union, voted Labour, went fishing, played darts, and so on.
One thing blokes didn’t do was to go to church. Church in England meant the C of E, where there would be a gathering of posh people who spoke with plummy accents and a vicar who dressed up in a funny way, or it meant one of the non-conformist chapels where they talked about the end of the world and didn’t drink. Blokes and church didn’t go together. Blokes went to church for weddings or funerals, but not otherwise.
Coming from that background, I sometimes suddenly think on Sundays, ‘what I am doing here?’ Why am I not fishing, or digging the garden, or doing all the other things that ordinary people at home in England do on Sundays?
I have had a problem with the church: it’s not for blokes, it simply doesn’t appeal to the ordinary punters whom we all know. Every year we read the same stuff at Christmas, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of the people”. Does anyone do anything about making it something for all the people?
Look at the people who come to see this child Jesus in the Christmas story – no clergy, no bishops, no church people. Shepherds – shepherds are blokes; these aren’t men in Barbour coats and flat caps, these are rough characters, hard, working men; men that would buy you a pint down at the pub. Magi – forget the silken robes and the soft hands, you’d get robbed no sooner than you were outside the city walls. Try instead men in traditional arab dress; men used to surviving the elements; men wise to the ways of the crooks and the fraudsters and the knifemen who would relieve them of their possessions and leave them with their throats cut down some back alley; men speaking a string of different languages; men with skin like leather and hands like sandpaper; men who would sit in the corner of the pub and keep themselves to themselves; men constantly alert, constantly watching, missing nothing, always on guard. Men you might not like, but you would certainly respect, even fear them. These are the people who come to see Jesus, these are the people for whom there is good news. These are the people that even the blokes amongst whom I grew up would respect.
These men who command respect come to see this Jesus because he is the one who will offer the answers. When your spouse dies; when one of your children is lying ill; when someone who has always been there for you has gone; when you work and work and it’s all a waste of time; when all your hopes come to nothing; then you need answers – even blokes down the pub need answers.
This Christmas Eve I would ask one thing of you. Forget about church and all the religious stuff you have learned, push it all to one side; forget all the stuff that gets in the way and sometime take an hour and read Saint Mark’s Gospel, everyone’s got a Bible somewhere at home. Read it as though you were hearing the story for the first time. Then decide what you make of this Jesus.
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of the people”, says the angel, for ordinary blokes as well as churchgoers, for people like you and people like me.