13th December 2023

In his sermon last Sunday, Sam referred to the US Commissioner of Patents who, in 1863, offered his resignation on the grounds that that everything exciting had been invented and patented. You wonder how many designs for locks, looms and artificial legs the poor guy had read through during the previous year to arrive at that conclusion. (Actually, you can find how many patents were granted for each of these innovations by clicking here.) But in hindsight you cannot help thinking he must have been asleep at the wheel. The previous decade had seen the invention of the sewing machine, the gyroscope, the fibre optic cable, the process of pasteurization, the rotary washing machine and plastic!

The key word, of course, is hindsight. It is easy for us to look back and see what was significant and what was just a dead-end. The geniuses are the people who spot such things at the time.

Which brings us to the story of the nativity. We look back and see a story complete with prophecies, stars and angels and it is tempting to think how neat it all looks. It cannot have looked like that to the shepherds, the magi or, most importantly, to Mary and Joseph. They were caught up in something where literally only God knew what was going on. Their response was to carry on faithfully while keeping their wits about them.

What for us today? Surely advent is a time of looking forward, waiting for what God has in store for us. We would never think that there are no more surprises to come, would we?

Incidentally, if you think that we have learnt from the foolishness of 19th century hubris, try googling “is Physics dead?” It seems that a number of people think it is!

Nick Parsons