Eat, drink and be merry

What a cheerful Christmas greeting! It caught my eye on the front of a Christmas card as I walked along the aisle of a supermarket recently. But surely that is only half the quotation: I almost expected the message inside the card to read: ‘… for tomorrow you die’. It didn’t – that would certainly spoil the cheery seasonal message. eat-drink-and-be-merry-card But where does this saying come from, anyway? Not Shakespeare, Dickens or even Bob Dylan, but in fact the source is the Bible. It turns out it doesn’t appear in one story as I had always thought; rather it’s a blend of sayings from a few different parts of the Bible. The first half of the saying comes from a story Jesus told about a rich farmer whose barns were overflowing with grain and so he decided to take life easy and enjoy his wealth, telling himself to ‘eat, drink and be merry’. God said to this farmer: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” And the gospel writer (Luke) sums up the message of Jesus’ story: ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’ Almost the whole saying turns up in one of St Paul’s letters: ‘If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’. The message is the same: ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ is a perfectly valid approach to life if this life is all there is. However, for the Christian believer there is the real hope of a life to come and Jesus’ message that we must be ‘rich towards God’ is as demanding of us today as it was of the farmer in the gospel story. Jesus would be the last person to forbid us to celebrate and enjoy fun and laughter at Christmas time but he wants us to do this in a spirit of responsibility towards God and others. Maybe a better Christmas card greeting would be: ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we live!’ Happy Christmas!


Chicken Licken and Foxy Loxy

img_2133 Once upon a time, there was a little chicken called Chicken Licken. One day an acorn fell from a tree and hit Chicken Licken on the head. Chicken Licken thought the sky was falling down. So he ran off to tell the king.

On the way Chicken Licken met Henny Penny, then Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey. Each one in turn joined Chicken Licken in his anxious race to tell the king that the sky was falling down. None of them bothered to ask critical questions of Chicken Licken. img_2135 Chicken Licken’s story was so dramatic, so serious, so believable that they simply bought the whole thing – hook, line and sinker.

By the time they met Foxy Loxy, so absorbed were they by the myth into which they had bought, that there wasn’t even a moment’s critical reflection as to whether it was entirely wise to trust a fox. Like all good children’s fables it ends in a horrible bloodbath.

img_2137The story of Chicken Licken is a parable for our times. Millions believed that the sky was falling down and voted for Brexit; nearly as many millions believe that the sky will fall down because Brexit won. Millions of Americans believed that America was no longer great (that the sky was falling down at a frightening rate) and voted for Donald; even more millions thought that the sky would fall down if Donald got elected and voted for Hillary. Of course, dear reader, neither you nor I engaged in the uncritical mob mentality that seems to have been a significant part of the democratic process on both sides of the Atlantic – or did we? Or do we?

I’ve given up on hoping for anything by way of balance from the UK newspapers. The doom and gloom or utterly fantastic idealism of one side or the other is the stuff of Chicken Licken. Without a doubt we are in changed and changing times. Some of what is emerging in European and American society is, to say the least, not good. We need to do some critical thinking about a Christian response, but it must be framed in the language of hope and not a hope vested in the politics and parties of left or right.

We will hear much from Isaiah this Advent season. Isaiah lived in troubled and troubling times. He had to learn to walk a line that could speak both judgement and hope in the face of the bankrupt politics and injustice of his day. It was a tough call and lest he lose his way…

11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. 14 He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. (Isaiah 8)

When Peter was writing to the early Christians who lived in an uncomfortable social space (and may have experienced suffering and persecution) he drew heavily from Isaiah including quoting directly from the passage in Isaiah 8.  Just like Peter we need to work out what Christian engagement in our contemporary and troubled world should look like. That engagement must be realistic and face the harsh realities of life, but it must also be infused with hope this Advent season.