I don’t know if you’ve ever played the game: ‘Which century would you most have liked to live in – and why?’
If it helps, I can tell you a century to avoid: the 14th century.
It did see the birth of the English language in the hands of kind yet flinty writers like Chaucer.
But away from that, it was a dreadful time, which mere words can’t honour – a time of terrible famines and starvation; a century of plagues like the world had never seen; a time of social inequality and people’s revolt; of the misuse of power, state violence and repression – and a church obsessed with money, guilt, fear and hell.
Really, unending awfulness.
Yet it was in this century that a woman – known now as Julian of Norwich – spoke these famous words of optimism:
‘All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.’
So was she criminally shallow, stupid or deluded?
She herself had almost certainly lost a husband and child in the plague…and watched helpless as two thirds of her beloved city was massacred by the rat’s fleas and horrid boils of the Black Death.
So how was all going to be well? How was such trauma to be mended? It was her constant scream, and she both received an answer and didn’t receive an answer.
Someone said to me recently, ‘I don’t celebrate Christmas because suddenly the world is a better place. It isn’t. I celebrate Christmas because it’s the story of God with us in the world as it is.’
This echoes another conversation Julian had with God in the impossible 14th century.
‘‘He did not say, ‘You will not be troubled, or, you will not be wearied, or you will not be distressed’ – but he did say, ‘You will not be overcome.’’
You will not be overcome, which is Julian’s way of saying ‘Happy Christmas’.
There was little that was right in the stable that first Christmas, and much that was right…and all shall be well.
And all manner of things shall be well.