Our normal lefty vicar Ian was at another Parish on Christmas Eve telling another flock about the poor Palestinians and the nasty Israelis, as we celebrated the birth of an Israeli. And thus at St Cuthbert’s we had a stand in vicar, an old man with a white beard who is officially retired and looked rather learned. And so to the sermon, witnessed by a bigger crowd than I can remember in years gone by.
This is the CofE so it did not take long for this lefty vicar to be telling us a story about olden Palestine, 2000 years ago, which, he noted, was rather like Modern Palestine. Here we go, thought I. And I was not to be disappointed.
As it happens Palestine is a term that only came into use about a hundred years ago so there was no Palestine 2,000 years ago but let’s gloss over that. Why spoil a good story about the wicked Jews as we celebrate the birth of the most famous Jew in history? The tale concerned a military man who ordered all the shepherds to bring their sheep to him so that he could steal them for his Roman troops. I am not so sure that the Romans actually did that sort of thing in the world covered by Pax Romana (including the Holy Land). Certainly the IDF does nothing of the sort to the poor Palestinians today.
Before I could get too cross the vicar moved onto discussing what happens where a majority tribe crushes and dominates a minority one and how this can lead to appalling things happening. He cited Myanmar as an example and I could not fault him. He then cited Syria. I shook my head. He was talking rubbish.
After a service ending with us belting out “Yea Lord we Greet Thee. Born this happy morning” and that magical realisation that, once again, it was Christmas Day, priest and flock retired to the basement for tea, coffee and mine pies. And after a while I found myself chatting to the vicar. “Excuse me vicar”, said I, “regarding your sermon and Syria…you are aware that the ruling tribe in Syria are the Alawites who are in fact a tiny minority? And is it not a touch ironic given your slating of Syria's rulers, that it is only under Alawite protection, that is the rule of Assad, that our fellow Christians can celebrate Christmas this morning without fear of execution since both ISIS and the other "rebels" banned the Yuletide on pain of death?”
To his credit the vicar did see the irony in this and to his real credit he conceded that the Alawites were indeed a small tribe and he had erred with that example and thanked me for pointing that out. We then discussed the contrast between Kingdom’s of men and the Kingdom of God over another mince pie.
I did not have it in me that Christmas morning to raise the question of the CofE’s ritual factually flawed berating of the wicked Jews and lauding of the poor Palestinians. It is Christmas after all and that mindset is just part of the Church’s DNA these days, facts notwithstanding.