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the Nevada desert was proving rather hot for Buzz Aldrin

Believers in conspiracy theory and chaos theory both have a case to press in the birth of Jesus.

July 20, 1969 NASA landed men on the moon. Or did they? If conspiracy theorists are to be believed, NASA staged the whole thing to make it look like they had landed on the moon while they filmed the whole thing on earth. Fingers are pointed at the absence of stars in the sky and the strange way the flag was standing on the moon to justify this position. I seem to remember this happening too, only it was in a movie called Capricorn One. Faking the moon landings came out third on a list of the most powerful modern conspiracy theories published in the Daily Telegraph last year. Bigger followings are found for the belief that a flying saucer landed at Roswell in 1947; that the assassination of President Kennedy was a much bigger operation than the work of one man (not an unreasonable position to take, you may think); and top of all, that 9/11 wasn’t the work of Al Qaeda but an atrocity perpetrated by the US Government on its own people.


The body World Public Opinion polled 16,000 people in 17 nations outside the United States in 2008 to see what they thought of 9/11. A majority of people in only 9 out of 17 countries believe it was the work of Al Qaeda. You may think that people with limited access to impartial news would be most susceptible to thinking otherwise but the survey showed 23 per cent of Germans thought it was the work of the US government against its own people as a pretext for war against Iraq. These are sad findings, but indicative of the growth of the modern conspiracy theory which has been fuelled by the demotic power of the internet.


The Church is not immune from such slurs, with the novel The Da Vinci Code arguing that Jesus and Mary Magdalene got married and had children and that the Church has covered this up ever since. Upon being ordained, of course, I was told this secret but I’m not allowed to tell you. And in case you can’t discern it from print, I am being sarcastic. The Da Vinci Code is nevertheless the best selling book in French history, with over one in four of the French having read it. This is unlikely to be much comfort to the Vatican.


There are, by contrast, others who think differently: that human history is governed by chaos more than conspiracy. Here the forces at work are random and uncontrollable. There is no hidden hand behind events and outcomes cannot be predicted.


I think we celebrate the fusion of the conspiracy theory and the chaos theory of life at Christmas. The conspiracy lies in the Trinitarian planning of the incarnation: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all who believe in him may not perish but may have eternal life. This birth was divinely ordered, a rescue mission to a lost world. Jewish history was littered with clues about this conspiracy. In Micah’s case he had even prophesied Bethlehem as it source.


Anticipating the birth, wise men had travelled from the East; rejoicing in it, angels had sung in the sky over the hills; hearing them, the shepherds had wandered over to the stable; discerning the truth, Herod set his heart on murder. This is what you might call an open secret – you only had to read the signs to grasp their significance.


But this conspiracy is also fused with the chaos theory of history because Mary had to give birth as a temporarily homeless woman in a cold and dank environment at the mercy of an indifferent bureaucracy. And she did this in the domain of a despotic ruler which placed her family in mortal danger. It seems odd, bordering on reckless, for the long-intended Messiah to emerge in this way. The planning was pure conspiracy, the execution pure chaos.


Are we being told something? I think so.


It is noticeable that as belief in conspiracy theories grows in the west, trust in God on the whole has become shakier, as if the dethroning of the almighty requires us to find alternative sources of hidden power. People are credulous enough to believe all sorts of kooky theories but when it comes to Jesus, often claim there isn’t enough evidence that he actually lived. Christianity is a supernatural faith with firm evidential grounding. There is more proof for the existence of Jesus than there is for Julius Caesar; and enough evidence in the absence of a body and the conduct of his friends to make everyone in history stop to think through the claims of the resurrection. This is an open secret, crying out for attention.


Yet the chaos of the incarnation speaks to us as well.


Christmas is a strange time of year. We try to be happy and expect others to be as well but it is often superficial and rarely rooted in lasting joy. It’s simply that time of year again when we’re expected to lighten up not once (Christmas Day) but twice (New Year’s Eve). We need a firm reason to celebrate and it isn’t there if Christ is taken out of it. Those whose lives are racked by pain and loneliness may find little solace in the way we do Christmas today.


The true spirit of this festival is found in Mary’s makeshift labour suite. Her hopes appeared to lie in a heap of manure drenched hay. She was cold, in pain and far away from her family and this was only the start of her trouble as Herod gathered his intelligence. We would look for someone to sue today. And Mary? The God she believed in wasn’t some kind of talisman who was expected to protect her from every eventuality, but one who was at his best with his sleeves rolled up, acting as a midwife to the Messiah. God was present in the chaos of the birth, enveloping them in his love through the darkness of the night. Mary’s story is there for all whose lives have taken a wrong turning. We cannot guarantee that our wishes will coincide with God’s purposes in the short term, but the Nativity shows us an enchanting side to God. Our lives may be as dark and dingy as Mary’s stable but outside the angels are dancing to the song of our tomorrow.


We have so much to be grateful for.



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