When Grace comes into town…
Here is a blog post published on Premier Radio by Dr Pete Phillips of the Centre for Digital theology at Durham University, reviewing our latest Sanctuary First Christmas Movie.
Sanctuary First and Durham University Centre for Digital Theology have recently entered into a research partnership exploring how digital technology is opening up new interactions between theology and media.
You’d expect a Christmas film to be full of the trappings of Christmas: lights, tinsel, presents, food and family. Or perhaps to mimic the glossy sentimentality of superstore videos. But SanctuaryFirst’s Christmas offering is a gritty urban film raising some interesting issues around the fear of the homeless as well as their own desperation. A woman is robbed of her shopping and runs down a darkened path towards strange lights in a bus shelter. There under flickering neon and a star overhead a couple celebrate the birth of their son and invite the woman to come and sit with them. As the child yawns, the refrain of the Bogle Band’s latest song “When Grace comes into Town” rolls out under the credits.
The film, like the song, is a reminder that Christmas is all about change – not just a religious change but a deep societal change as well. As Mary had proclaimed after Gabriel’s visit: God’s activity is about a levelling or overturning of the social norms of the rich getting richer and the poor remaining poor. The Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 is a splendid expression of God’s historical bias to the poor. Indeed, one of the first acts of the grown up Jesus in Luke 4 is to read out another of those manifesto passages from Isaiah 61:1-2 in which God good news is to be proclaimed to the poor and to involve freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, the oppressed set free. All around Jesus’ birth social change is seen as part and parcel of what God has always had at the heart of his agenda.
It’s a robust film. But it’s an even more robust Christmas message. Despite overeating, overspending, overindulgence of every sort, Christmas should be all about the dawning of a revolution, the proclamation of good news to the poor, the overturning of power and just distribution of wealth…and healing, and wholeness, and the Lord’s favour proclaimed. Perhaps as we celebrate this Christmas, we would do well to reflect on the revolutionary power of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem so many years ago!
Dr Peter Philips