The sermons throughout this term have addressed questions of Cinema and Ideology – beginning with Star Wars. It’s quite fitting then, that the term should end with adverts for the Lord’s Prayer being banned from the Star Wars movie due to air next month.
The advert version of the Lord’s prayer has been commodified into a cultural soundbyte: a bit of nostalgia for prayers we learned at school; that piece of liturgy most can remember when they need to say something religious; perhaps even an incantation to garner support from the emperor of the cosmos in the hope of joining him in a place called heaven, the final resting place of the tediously well behaved.
Squeezed into an advert, the Lord’s prayer looks like just another cultural commodity and as such is pretty harmless and of course, when uttered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, feels very British.
The Lord’s Prayer in scripture is quite different. You could even say it promotes a form of “non-violent extremism.” Heard in its historical context, it was designed as an ideological explosive device:
An oppressive empire and a corrupt national hierarchy - the Lord’s Prayer is a demand for regime change:
Thy Kingdom come!
It is an attempt to destabilise the economic status quo of the Roman empire, which rested on a system of debt obligation:
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
And it is suspiciously Marxist, what with its assumption for radical solidarity with the poor:
‘give US this day our daily bread.’
And yet, that radical solidarity is what we celebrate at Christmas – as the Chairman of the universe reveals himself as a fragile mortal born into a feral underclass.
And his birth created such fear of regime change that the reigning king did what any contemporary king would have done, and slaughtered every toddler in Bethlehem in case his own dynasty was overthrown.
And economic instability was a hallmark of this baby’s life: even before he was born, his mother prophesied that he would "fill the hungry with good stuff, and send the rich away empty handed."
Stick that in your Christmas card and send it!
The counter narrative of Christmas is that when the father who art in heaven reveals himself – everyone is shocked to discover that he’s no cosmic emperor –But a fragile, little powerless nobody. Christmas is the invitation to see how far that alternative power dynamic will be effective in the real world, here and now.