It doesn’t matter – according to Con the Fruiterer

A sermon by The Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold AO

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Today is the fifth day of the twelve days of Christmas, the day of five golden rings according to the eponymous song; or of five hares-a-running according to an 1858 game developed from that song by Thomas Hughes. I hope that this Christmas has been a time of special blessing and joy for you and your family but I especially pray that your Christmas has given you a refreshed sense of all that really matters in this annual celebration of the coming of Emanuel – God with us.  

Charles Dickens in his novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ wrote of Christmases past, present and to come. What of our own individual experiences of Christmases past and this Christmas season where we are right now; and what of our hopes for Christmases to come? I’d like us to reflect for a few moments on what we think matters most to each of us at Christmas-time. I promise this won’t be a sermon of twelve minutes of silence, I will come back to develop my theme; but first, in these precious moments away from the noise that Christmas so often becomes, please take the chance now to delve into your memories of Christmases past, recalling some moment where you profoundly felt Emanuel – God with us – and where it took you to a new level of comprehension of the Christmas miracle.

On December 11th this year in their weekly program, The Minefield, aired on Radio National, co-hosts journalist Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, host of ABC’s Religion & Ethics website and a former Anglican minister, chose not to have any guests but to discuss between themselves the topic “2019 – the year where nothing really mattered” – an odd title given the very significant events that happened both globally and locally. You can get a podcast of the whole program if you would like to listen to it – – but for the moment, a comment in the program that particularly piqued my interest was this:

We’ve entered a consequence-free period of history … a moment or a movement where everything matters so much that nothing matters. [3:30>]

The point of everything mattering excessively, was followed three minutes later in the program with this comment:

Infobesity (where) everything becomes flattened out in importance because there is so much coming at you that in the end we can’t have a moral response. [6:34>]

And shortly afterwards this punch-line asking if we:

…end up at the point where nothing really does matter anymore.

Listening to this, I was reminded of Con the Fruiter, that lovable Comedy Company character from the 1980s, who would invariably end his commentary about episodes of comic chaos in his work and family life with:

Ahh, it doesn’t matter!

In the sense Con meant, ‘it doesn’t matter’ was a wise statement – how much in our lives causes us fret and anxiety, when in reality ‘it (really) doesn’t matter’.

However, Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens were inviting the listeners to consider something much more serious – not just those moments that seem so dreadfully important when we are in the midst of them but really are inconsequential, but rather the overall trajectory of our living where, in despair, we might feel it can’t let it matter because we feel powerless in the face of what is thrown at us … where we are scared to think of how it might profoundly matter and we just don’t know what to do in consequence. More dangerously, they concluded that this powerlessness could lead us to not having a moral response to such events. Indeed in this vein, they said:

Anything that might be considered a broad or abstract institutional principle has become so tenuous that really the only thing that can matter, all of our judgments, can only be pragmatic – do they work for us? Do they help us achieve some kind of success? [7:30>]

We may think that such despair in the face of too much mattering in our lives forces us to yield to the statement that nothing really matters; so we just endeavour to get through each day by doing what seems best for ourselves at that moment. But we are not the first generation to feel this (Mesopotamia) Luke’s gospel tells us how much Jesus ached when he encountered just such feelings amongst the people of his own time:

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes.  [Luke 19:42]

Jesus saw that there was too much happening in their lives for them to find peace for it remained hidden from their eyes due to all the disconnection and anxiety in their lives. The peace of Emanuel eluded them even though it was the very God who was with them at that moment speaking to them. Jesus wept as he spoke those words because he ached with love for benighted humanity that was simply surviving as best it could to get through each day. In John’s gospel, we read Jesus’ simple but profound commandment that spoke more than anything else could to the dead weight of such daily living that so easily dragged humanity down with its seeming excess of mattering:

This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you [John 15:12]

A few moments ago, I asked you to reflect upon some moment from one of your past Christmases where you may have profoundly felt Emanuel – God with us – where it may have taken you to a new level of comprehension of the Christmas miracle. What caused me to ask this was a Facebook post I had read two weeks before Christmas from Katrina Loveday. I was so taken with this post that I reposted it on my own page, so I know that many of you will already have read it; but if you haven’t, a reprint of that post is included with the printed copy of my sermon this morning. When I reposted it, I wrote:

Thank you so much, Katrina, for sharing this beautiful and real Christmas story – I have been deeply moved, emoted, inspired and spiritually nourished by what you have written.

Katrina and Craig have three children – Lilly, Sarah and Josh. Josh has severe autism that has required years of full time care by both his parents. In her post, Katrina related an ordinary moment that became transcendent a couple of years ago. She had gone with Josh to the RAH for him to have an appointment at the eye clinic. Entering the waiting room they encountered not just a room full of people, but one in particular who was shackled to a wheel chair with cuffs to his hands and ankles. Katrina described the scene:

What with the two accompanying burly uniformed guards there really wasn’t  very much space for sitting. Nor where there many spots around the room for each of our sets of eyes to look, so as to all avoid each others’ gazes.

While that particular scene may not have happened to each of us before, I am sure we can all recall moments where we wanted to be disconnected from others around about us, not wanting to catch their eye; where we simply just wanted to be left to our own thoughts.

But Josh, immune from the collective connection anxiety around him, broke into that awkward space with an innocence that confounded the wise. Katrina wrote:

Josh, fascinated by the young prisoner, and with his open countenance and altogether unfamiliar arrangement, deliberately chose the seat right next to the wheelchair! … With utterly unprejudiced heart, having minimal framework for interpreting the young man’s appearance, Josh’s curiosity very soon led him to put out his hand and gently hold one of the wheels.

There had been nothing manipulative in what Josh had done that day, but the consequence was dramatic. Firstly, the young prisoner started to ask about the birds on Josh’s T-shirt and his love of birds in general. Here is what Katrina wrote about that transcendent moment:

Although no-one else spoke much, the community connections in the room accelerated and deepened at the palpable chain reaction of love which Josh had unknowingly sparked in his disarming reaching out. Josh’s severe disabilities provided all of us a common grounding for compassion and tenderness towards each other – simply as brother and sister humans. In spite of each of us having very specified ‘roles’ (which everyone except Josh comprehended) in those cramped little quarters for those short minutes as community together, Josh in his seeming less-than-whole-humanness led the rest of us to a place of everyone giving full-hearted dignity and respect to each of the others. When it was time for Josh and I to leave, everyone exchanged friendly greetings and knowing grins.

Katrina described the encounter as ‘unbelievable’, and in simply human terms so it was; but the unbelievable sometimes happens … it did that day; and so too did it all those years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. In her post Katrina went on to relate a subsequent episode as they left the clinic which had its own beautiful profound significance – but I’ll leave you to read about that in the printout of this sermon.

She finished her post with these words:

Well, my friends … let me conclude by confessing that as much as I still don’t really like cleaning up toileting accidents and the constraints of perpetually being mother to a giant-sized non-verbal toddler with autism – I am coming to slowly grasp the enormous privilege I have in my front row seat in our classroom of Earth where each of us spends a short or long lifetime as a student learning ‘Lessons in Love’.

We are on the fifth of the twelve days of Christmas, by tradition the number was said to be the number of days between Christ’s birth and the visit of the three wise men. On Christmas Day, God gave us the gift of His Son; twelve days later, through the agency of the Magi, humanity gave gifts in return to God’s Son. What gift will we give Jesus in thankfulness? I am reasonably confident Christ would not be expecting gold, frankincense or myrrh from us; nor do I feel that he would be wanting us simply to proclaim ourselves as Christian. Rather, I believe he would want us to be Christian in deed not just in word – to love one another as he has loved us – without guile or pretence, but with holiness and innocence. Thank you Josh Loveday.