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This is England: The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome/understood it

(This is England '88, Channel 4 2011)

Whatever Meadows believes about Christmas he certainly seems to 'get it' in a way that the rest of the world (including lots of us 'in the church') have either missed or prefer to ignore.

His latest 3-part installment in the 'This is England' story had me gripped…with desperation for the plight of his characters, remembered pain from shared experiences*, fearful glimmers of hope as I dared to believe that they might make it through the darkness after all…

Although the redemptive plot elements primarily focus on human forgiveness and restoration of relationship, Meadows does not exalt this to the position of a be-all-and-end-all fix-it for his characters. Woody and Lol, in particular, end up poignantly reminiscent of Adam and Eve at the end of Paradise Lost: "hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow".

Moreover, he explicitly deals with the 'what if?' of Jesus - recognising the need, the darkness, the yearning of the world, recognising the implications of the Incarnation 'if true', unafraid to grapple with that 'if' and leave it as an open question. Wow. No nice, tidy, historically-edited Nativity in the corner of a TV 'Christmas special' - instead, an absolutely gut wrenching sequence in which scenes of Lol having her stomach pumped, accompanied by flashbacks of the absolute horror of the life she was trying to escape, were juxtaposed with crucifixion imagery and again with the steadfastness of her friend in prayer for her.

Meadows seems sympathetic to but not simplistic about the possiblity of 'divine intervention'. On the one hand we could infer that the prayers are answered; but to me there was an unmistakeable element of accusation/questioning towards God in the contrast between Lol's torment and the arguably overly simple solutions offered by 'faith' - why all this suffering in the first place? Even if Jesus was/is who he said he was/is, can that possibly make all this OK?

Watching this reminded me of the faithfulness of God in the darker and bleaker stretches of my own journey. I hardly ever saw it at the time, but I am utterly confident that the 'slow miracle' of the last few years is not something that happened by chance and it certainly wasn't the result of my own efforts…

Back to John 1 to conclude. Apparently (well, according to Don Carson), the word in verse 5 has two meanings, and that we should take them both: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it", and "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it". The two together rather nicely sum up "This is England '88"…anguish and searching and uncertainty on the one hand; at least the glimmers of triumphant hope on the other.

*Oops, just realised that's in danger of being interpreted too specifically/dramatically...I'm not suggesting my life bears comparison with the central themes.