In my round-up of some of my favourite links, I mentioned Dave Faulkner’s reflections on the Royal Mail’s lack of Christmas stamps and one person’s experience of being offered the secular, pantomime-themed Christmas stamps first. (My experience was that I was offered the ‘Madonna & Child’ stamp first, but then my post office knows my job and that my mass mailing was not Christmas cards but a church mailing.) Dave’s friend took this to be a further example of our culture squeezing out Jesus from Christmas. Dave, for his part, questioned whether or not we really need to be concerned about this, asking do we really want the Royal Mail proclaiming the name of Jesus.
Now the Dean of the Blackburn Cathedral (the Very Rev Christopher Armstrong) and the cathedral staff have taken on the Royal Mail saying that it is ‘utterly demeaning’ for there to be a choice at all. The article itself does not list the reasons as to why any offer of secular Christmas stamps is demeaning. The article continues quoting the statement:
In a letter they said: “If we are to have Christmas stamps at all, let them be Christian.
“But if for some mindlessly secularist reason we must have a choice, then let there be stamps of both sorts, in equal number.”
I wonder what use the cathedral staff think that having Christian stamps (in particular, only Christian stamps) will achieve. Do they see it as a form of evangelism? Or, is it further indication of their waning influence within British society?
Perhaps it’s the vestiges of my years spent at Duke with my Hauerwasian friends that make me question with Dave, Is it really a concern for us that the Royal Mail has religiously themed stamps? I am one of the few American Christians who refuses to get uptight over the supposed secular ‘war on Christmas’. It seems Christians have done a great job themselves of wrenching the meaning out of it without having to worry about stores saying ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Merry [Happy] Christmas’. Even more so, what does it say that we want the postal service to somehow carry on the evangelism the church seem unable to do? Going further, does putting Jesus’ image on a stamp somehow make him a spokesman for the state, and if it does, what is this Jesus saying? Christmas stamps may be a reminder to people ‘what the season is really for’, but a stamp on a letter rips the story from context and makes any story for Jesus allowable.
This Sunday’s reading brings us John the Baptist (Mark 1.1-8). I imagine he would be wholly unconcerned with what the Royal Mail puts on its stamps. What I like about Advent is that in the middle of what is supposed to be the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, we have the mangy-looking, camel hair wearing John the Baptist wonder into our Christmas parties shouting at us. He calls us to repentance, which places the Christmas story back into it’s proper context – one that can’t be communicated by a stamp on an envelope. The Christmas story is our story, and is best told within the church context. In particular the seasons keep the context when they don’t allow us to distort the story and emphasise cute shepherds in tea towels and ‘Mary’ throwing a baby doll into the manger (if she hasn’t dropped it). John the Baptist and his message jolts us out of the sentimentality we give it, and his is a message we can’t ignore.