St. Mugg and Christmas

I’ve always been a great fan of the writings of Malcolm Muggeridge – ‘St. Mugg’ as he affectionately became known in his later years. Muggeridge led an interesting life; as a young man he was the Guardian correspondent for the USSR, and during World War 2, a secret agent. In later life he became editor of Punch magazine, and later still found celebrity status in the UK and America, largely due to his new-found Christian faith, which eventually led to the nick-name.

‘St. Mugg’ was someone who could be relied upon to give a good interview, write a good piece for a magazine or newspaper, or be a controversial panellist on such programmes as Any Questions? on BBC Radio 4. During such broadcasts, he often made quite prophetic utterances – usually scorned by fellow panellists and audiences alike at the time – which have so often proved to be correct. Consider this remark, made, I believe, sometime during the 1960s or ’70s; ‘No doubt, long after I am gone, someone will be saying on some indestructible programme like Any Questions?, that a touch more abortion, another year at school, and birth pills given away with the free morning milk, and all will be well.’ If my memory serves me aright, the only point he got wrong here was to assume that children would continue to be given free school milk!

Muggeridge was far from being an ‘evangelical’ though (at least, in the doctrinal sense). His own theology was rather mystical and he saw little profit in seeking ‘proofs’ for his faith in space and time; he could quite happily refer to some biblical stories (the Christmas Story for example) as ‘mythical’. However, I for one, having read most of his books and writings, do not doubt for one moment that ‘St. Mugg’ was a true, ‘born again’ Christian. And his own brand of Christianity has always fascinated me, helping me to understand the fact – not just the theory – that God works in diverse ways in revealing himself to each individual Christian. And if we are open, we can learn much from those at both the ‘factual’ and the ‘poetic’ or ‘arty’ ends of the theological spectrum.

As may be expected, Muggeridge often had a different ‘take’ on familiar bible stories which can really make us sit up and meditate on the world in which we find ourselves. Regarding the birth of our Lord, which we celebrate over the coming days, ‘St. Mugg’ mused as to how a similar angelic message to a modern virgin (assuming Gabriel could find one, he adds sarcastically) would be received. He thought that to the modern ‘Mary’, the news would be ‘ill-tidings of great sorrow’ and ‘a slur on the local family planning centre’. He also imagined that the modern virgin, possibly unmarried (he was writing in the 1970s when marriage was seen as important) and claiming to be pregnant supernaturally, would be treated as a psychiatric case needing help. These things, added together, he believed, would make the modern ‘Mary’ a classic case for an abortion. He finishes off his musings in this way: ‘Thus our generation, needing a Saviour more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born; too enlightened to permit the Light of the World to shine in a darkness that grows ever more oppressive’ (Jesus p23).

The opening to John’s Gospel contains these words; ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it’ (New Living Translation). It’s my prayer this Christmas that you, dear reader, will find your own heart illuminated by the light of the Christ-child.

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