When I was a small boy, I spent a great deal of time with my grandpa. He was nothing special to most people but everything special to me. Grandpa, Dave Schneider, was patient, strong, and kind. He liked his whiskey — a habit he’d picked up during the war — and at Christmas time after he’d had a drink or two, I’d always hear him humming or singing the same tune.
I didn’t know at the time what it was but my mother told me later it was a hymn called “Abide With Me.” Nothing odd about that I suppose, other than it wasn’t a Christmas song and also that grandpa was Jewish. Intensely secular, cynical about all religion, but still Jewish. It was only after his death that I discovered what all of this was about. Grandpa had spent almost four years in the army in the Second World War, rising up the ranks until he was a senior sergeant. Most of the men who had been in his original unit were dead by 1944.
In one of the last engagements in which he took part, Dave and his men sat waiting for the shooting, the anger, and the pain to begin when one of them, a 19-year-old Welsh infantrymen, began to sing. Many of the other soldiers joined in. Then the singing stopped and the combat began, and by the end of the fight some of them were dead; including that young Welshman.
The song he had been singing was “Abide With Me,” and the battle took place at Christmas. Grandpa Dave never forgot and either out of tribute, sorrow, or something beyond our understanding, he kept that fallen warrior’s memory alive each year. Grandpa is gone now but I still feel his presence and I, too, still sing that song to myself.
“Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
Christmas was months ago, that holy mystery disguised and perhaps disfigured in tinsel, shopping, and lights, but its meaning continues. It’s less about remembering the birth of Christ than living as if that birth changed us and changed the world. Because if it didn’t the entire story is pointless. And that story should, if properly understood, oblige us to create a culture of kindness, a form of organized goodness, and thus to rehinge a society gone lazy in its sense of fairness and indifferent in its caring.
The great test, the defining question, is whether and how we change what is around us, change it so as to reflect the unconditional love that wasn’t suggested but demanded by Christ.The Reverend Michael Coren
Christianity is about the rebel Jesus. He came to be a bridge, along which the poor, the forgotten, and the despised may walk. He came to be a river, in which the marginalized, the broken, and the needy may swim. Jesus the Messiah and Jesus the martyr, but also Jesus the baby, crying out on that first Christmas morning for our concern in His utter vulnerability. His mother was a teenager, His family lived under an imperial occupation, religious hypocrisy soaked the very fabric of their society, and the world groaned for a better, more humane way.
The great test, the defining question, is whether and how we change what is around us, change it so as to reflect the unconditional love that wasn’t suggested but demanded by Christ.
Yet the world is understandably doubtful about those who follow Jesus Christ and I don’t blame them. More than 81 per cent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, many Christians in Canada seem to care for people just before they’re born and just before they die. In between, not so much. Too many of them fight like lions for the right to discriminate against LGBTQ2 people but behave like sheep when challenged with systemic racism and economic injustice.
John Wesley, the great founder of Methodism, famously wrote: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Imagine for a moment if every Christian acted thus. I care not a fig about whether politicians mouth “The Lord’s Prayer” before a meeting, couldn’t care less about mentioning God in the national anthem, am totally indifferent to whether we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
What matters is following the central teachings of the Gospels and embracing Christ. Do not judge others, always forgive, hold the wealthy to account, embrace the poor and broken, welcome the rejected, love and love again, and turn the world upside down. Abide with him, abide with his teaching, and never give up, whatever the cost or danger.