Youngsters want peace for all – just like Jesus
In his Christmas message, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, finds the ambitions and hopes of 1,500 young children very revealing.
Last Sunday was National Kids Day. I don't know where this new institution came from, but I've a sneaking suspicion it's been invented by greeting-cards manufacturers!
I discovered it through an article in last Monday's EDP. Fifteen hundred children under the age of 10 had been interviewed to find out what they thought about the world. Very revealing it was.
They were asked who was the most famous person in the world today. To my pleasure and surprise, God came top of the list. Richard Dawkins must be disappointed.
President Bush came second to God (another surprise) whereas Jesus came in fourth. Whether the second person of the Trinity can come top and be in fourth place at the same time, I'm not sure, but let's not argue over theological quibbles.
Just above Jesus in third place was Madonna. I don't think this was a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary but Madonna has certainly traded on the Virgin Mary's fame. Tony Blair trailed in seventh place, one behind the Queen (nice to see the order of precedence being honoured by the young) with Father Christmas at number five! I suppose it's forgivable that he should have such a high profile just before Christmas.
Those who think God is out of date, forgotten and making little impact on the lives of the young perhaps need to think again. But it was the answers to some of the other questions that intrigued me even more.
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When asked what they thought was the very best thing, these children gave top place to 'being a celebrity'.
That fits our culture perfectly. We live in the age of the X Factor, Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. We even put someone unknown into Celebrity Big Brother (Chantelle, as I recall) who then becomes a celebrity simply on the basis of being mistaken for a celebrity in the first place. It's all very confusing.
Years ago, Andy Warhol dreamed that one day everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. It seems to be coming true. To my mind, this desire for fame in the young isn't something to be despised or belittled. I think it's a sign of young ambition. It's wonderful that young people want to make their mark on the world, to be recognised, to be honoured. Young people who lack hope and expectation would have no longing for fame, celebrity and success at all. They wouldn't want to achieve anything.
Perhaps the most encouraging features of this poll of 1,500 young people came in their answers to the question "What do you think is the very worst thing in the world?" The top answer was "killing people". Perhaps they were thinking of the tragedy in Ipswich as much as war in Iraq or elsewhere. And when they were asked what they would do if they could make a single law that the whole world would obey, the top answer was "ban knives and guns".
Young people are ambitious for fame and celebrity. They are also longing for peace. They want to live in harmony with each other. Perhaps these young people who think God is the most famous person in the world have cottoned on to His longing for peace, love and justice too.
Christmas is about the birth of the Prince of Peace. That's one of the titles of Jesus. Christ came to earth not seeking fame but bringing God's peace. At Christmas our thoughts turn again to peace in a world torn apart by our hostilities to one another.
Over the past few days, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O'Connor, have been on a joint pilgrimage to Bethlehem. It's another sign of how closely Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops work together.
But they've not gone to Bethlehem simply to prove an ecumenical point. They've gone to the place where Christ was born to show solidarity with the Christians there.
Only a few years ago the majority of the population in Bethlehem were Christians. Now they number no more than 15 to 20pc of the population. They've been a minority in the Holy Land for years, but now they find it hard to make a living. Security measures have meant it's incredibly difficult for them to get to Jerusalem and the numbers of tourists and pilgrims have vastly reduced, limiting the source of so much of their income.
This rapid disappearance of Christians from the Holy Land has happened without the world even noticing. Nobody much reports it but it's a tragedy nonetheless. When people feel neglected and ignored they find religious leaders from other countries (let's call them celebrities in this context) visiting them brings huge encouragement.
When people enter our lives and live alongside us, even for a time, it gives us a sense that we are cherished, wanted, loved. And the Archbishop and the Cardinal praying for peace in Bethlehem may have more impact than most of us ever imagine.
It's interesting that God took top spot among young people when asked about fame and celebrity. The odd thing is that God doesn't seem to seek much fame or celebrity at all. He's so hidden in our world that some people even think he doesn't exist. It's easy to ignore God or disregard him.
This Christmas we remember that God chose busy Bethlehem at the time of the census as the place where Christ would be born. No one much noticed. People were so preoccupied on the streets and in the pubs that the birth of this child in a stable didn't even rate a byline in the local paper.
A few shepherds noticed but who took any notice of shepherds? A few migrant workers from another country - we call them wise men nowadays - also noticed, but who would take any notice of them? Jesus Christ slipped into this world under the cover of darkness, not seeking fame, but wanting to live among us, to live alongside us, to enter our lives through our hearts and minds. This is the most lasting influence of all. It's what God wants for us - to live in love, peace and harmony with each other and with him.
A very happy Christmas to you all.