Christmas

#ChristmasMeans

I found this old message, and although it is not Christmas, there is still plenty of food for thought here!

(Glen Scrivener) #ChristmasMeans not having to worry about tomorrow, because the battle has been won – so untangle yourself from the cares of this world.

(Glen Scrivener) #ChristmasMeans “Jesus can deal gently with the ignorant & wayward since He Himself was beset with weakness.” (Heb.5:2)
(Justin Welby…) #ChristmasMeans that in Jesus, God has given us the most precious gifts of all: forgiveness and hope.
(Graham Kings) #ChristmasMeans #God crossed the widest cultural chasm in the cosmos.
(Graham Kings) #ChristmasMeans the Ultimate became intimate.
(Pete Greig) #ChristmasMeans  Infinity became infancy.
(Paul Baylis) #christmasmeans the God of all comfort surrounded by ox crap; uncleanliness next to Godliness.
(Janet Hopper) #ChristmasMeans God walks with us Emmanuel
(Rachel Bushyager) #ChristmasMeans the gift of a Saviour for the world because we need saving. The gift is free, but it costs God everything #reallove
(Chris Russell) #ChristmasMeans – we can only talk truly of God when we talk of Jesus Christ
(CAP UK) #Christmasmeans finding that the light of hope is way more powerful than the darkness of despair #freedebthelp
(Paul Butler) #ChristmasMeans discovering God breaking into ordinary everyday life and charging it with meaning – that’s what happened to the shepherds
(Stephen Croft) God in humility enters the heart of the world, once and for all, the eternal remedy for the deadly poison of our pride #christmasmeans
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Christmas, Easter

Continuing to live out the Christmas Story…

Christmas has come and has gone, the day we have spent ages waiting for has now happened, it won’t be long before the turkey is fully consumed and the decorations go back in the box for next year.

It’s almost a ‘reset’ moment for normality to return, soon everything will be back to normal, and it probably won’t be long before Valentine’s Day, Mothers Day and then Easter Eggs start appearing the supermarkets. We are caught sometime on what feels like a bit of a hamster wheel of celebrations of annual events and peak of celebration and then the reset to normality.

Yet I wonder whether this is really what celebrations, especially religious festivals, are meant to be?

Or are they meant to leave us profoundly changed by our regular encounter with them?

Christmas and Easter are not meant to be just ‘tick box’ festivals where we enjoy a few off work and enjoying some extra chocolate –and while I’m at it ought we not be celebrating Pentecost –the birth of the Church with coming of the Holy Spirit- but rather remind us of the bigger story of who we, what life is actually all about.

For the Christian Christmas causes us to focus afresh our reflection and fresh encounter with the radical truth of the miracle of the incarnation, God becoming human, God become one of us, the light of the world stepping down into darkness, heaven literally touching earth and immersing himself amongst the mess of human existence.

A God who is not remote and distant, not sat in a cloud unaffected by pain, misery, grief and suffering, instead one whose body bears the scars of living amongst humanities brokenness.

A message lived out with a backdrop of homelessness, poverty, Roman occupation and ending with genocide and the flight of a refugee family, this is not a sanitised idealised Hollywood world but the real world we all encounter from times to times.

Christianity is a faith that is firmly earthed in reality of life, and understands the human condition better than any other book ever written in human history.

Gods real life encountering our real life, God not just interested in our respectable elements but in our brokenness, failures and unrespectability.

The birth story of Jesus, God as one of us, a High Priest who is not unsympathetic to our weakness, a High Priest who was tested in everyday and was without sin, is the beginning of a story meant to consume us, and write us into a new and greater story where our story and Gods story entwine, both stories harmonising together to write Gods big story in his world, a multifaceted story made person for each of us set where we actually are not waiting gif us to reach a certain level of attainment before the story can start.

The story of Christ Birth is a journey towards Easter, yet one our society resist. I quoted Billy Connerlys grandchild who had a moment of realisation in a nativity that Jesus was to die on the cross when he screamed out “they killed baby Jesus”. A connection that sadly too many people in today’s society haven’t made.

The Easter story, shows us that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that we are people in need of fixing, people in need of a Saviour. I need Gods forgiveness, and cannot earn it, I am stuck and powerless unless God himself makes the first move. I am stuck in my sin. I come to communion empty handed as the old hymn writer puts it “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling”, although we come empty handed we come before a generous God who paid the price in full “one full, perfect and sufficient, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world” (Book of Common Prayer).

Yet the Easter story not only is a really uncomfortable mirror to our souls, it also is a story of victory and joy, as this story shows us that sin, suffering, death and hell do not get the last word.

God has spoken, God has intervened in human history, literally making history his story and the resurrection validates the words of Christ who said on the cross as he breathed his last “IT IS FINISHED”.

And Gods words are backed by power from on high as the Risen Christ promised not to leave us as orphans, but to send another, the promised Holy Spirit… A promise that is still on offer today for us, for you and for me. A promise, that he (Christ) in us is greater than he (Satan) that is in the world, a promise that we have the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave active in your life and mine.

So, rather than just going through the motions of religious Festivals and other celebrations, let’s be people that allow this story shape and change us. As we inhabit the story of God, and he inhabits our story, we discover anew truth that lead to transformation within our lives and changes us.

To often as Christians we know the story, but remain unchanged by it, we visit rather than inhabit the story of God, Gods story and our stories rarely intertwine but rather run along parol-lines only occasionally converging.

Lets not be written into a story of commercialism, that keeps on turning from one season to the next, that only causes us to spend out money, as ever changing onto the next celebration but leaving us untouched and unchanged.

Don’t let the baby in the manager is moth-balled for next year as the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs begs for your wallets attention, instead let’s be people that live lives living a different better story, one that the world thinks it knows, but needs to be seen lived out and invited into…

The Gospel tells us we are leopards who can change their spots, and holds out a story of hope to world which is literally dying to hear and be apart of.

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brokenness, Christmas, incarnation, Pain, Servanthood., Suffering.

In the Poo.

At our nativity service I got everyone to come up and put newspaper headlines into the manager with baby Jesus as a prayer activity but also as a sign and symbol of Jesus coming down amid and amongst the brokenness of this world.

to illustrate this I really wanted to bring into Church a bucket of manure, a really stinky bucket, to show the smell that the Creator of the universe was born into, Jesus was literally born surrounded by crap.  Jesus was born how he lived, surrounded by the world at is vilest, messiness and most broken, and yet amid all that he wasn’t tainted by it, rather he overcame it, he brought beauty out of his brokenness, bringing hope to the hopeless, bringing salvation, restoration, tranformation from gutter right accross every stratosphere of human divide, with even the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man on earth came to bow the knee to the babe of Bethlehem.

As we think about the image of crap, I was struck by two images:

Firstly, from my time working in a nursing home, whereby if a patient soiled themselves we came in with rubber gloves, plastic aprons and air freshener… Arms length and trying not to gag.

Secondly, of seeing many babies and their mums at our parent and toddler group, dealing with horrific smells from down bellow, with crying babies held close, comforted and loved despite the stench.

Love does not hold back at arms length, but embraces amid the filth and stench and sees beyond it all the person who is loved more than anything.

Jesus is the latter, the second image, drawing close and loving even when the world was at its most vile and disgusting.

All the way through his life Jesus “touched untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean”… A women with “an issue of blood” ritually unclean, defiled, banned from the temple touched the hem of his garment and rather then her defilement tainting Christ as she touched him but she was both healed andcleansed no longer unclean, untouchable and defiled, instead purified, his holiness was bigger and greater than her condition.

We don’t need a lecture here to know the world is not as it should be, the newspaper headlines scream it out to us all the time.

Nor do we need a rant here talking about how people are screwed up and broken, we probably know this too loud and clear.

We know the problem.

We know the world is defiled and full of crap, our lives are at time much the same, the good news is that there is a solution and rescue amid the mess, the baby Jesus who grew up to take all the vilest depravity humanity could throw at him, and carried them on his shoulders as he was crucified for you and for me.

He took the crap for you and for me.

All my sin, the junk and the skeletons in the closet, brought into the light and washed away by his death and resurrection.

Jesus once spoke to a guy with leaprocy and asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” And the guy replied “I want to be clean” and with that Jesus reached out and touched him, again like the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus was defiled but rather his touch made the leaper clean.

In many ways we are like that leaper before Christ, he asks us “What do you want us to do for you?” Will we echo the leapers statement of faith and say to Jesus, I want to be clean?

In the book of Isaiah it talks of our sins being like scarlet but becoming as white as snow, let’s come to him afresh for cleansing, we can’t pretend there isn’t a problem anymore like the stinking teenager trying to mask a ton of BO by spraying their clothes with Lynx deoderant, instead it is saying “I know my need of cleansing for God, I know you are a God who meets me in the gutter at my lowest point”.

As I type this I am reminded of a old hymn which says “Foul I to the fountain fly wash me saviour lest I die”… Knowing that the stench of our sin is more than just a bit unpleasant, but is actually fatal, and our cleansing and purification is not just life saving but life giving and life transforming.

Yet Jesus’ decent from heaven to the gutter is I believe actual a model and a picture we as Christians are supposed the emulate.

Jesus called us to be people of salt and light, light that drives away darkness and most most needed in the darkest placesm and salt that combats decay. In fact the Romans used to put salt on their poo to combat the smell and the germs, so when Jesus is talks of being the salt of the earth, it is a call to the darkest, smelliest, vilest places that need the transforming good news the most.

So, Jesus descended into the worst of the world’s crap, we are called to do like wise.

Mother Teresa once famously challenged of us as CHristians to “find their Calcutta” -I believe there will be somewhere we are called to serve, to wash off the dirt -the crap- of the feet of that place, and rather than letting it change and taint us, instead lets be the ones bringing the change and the transformation, for the glory of God which is unstoppable despite the unmentionable things this world throws in our path and I’m our way.

 

 

 

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Christmas, Giving/Generousity.

Ebenezer Scrooge…

One of my favourite Christmas stories is that of a Christmas Carol, where the hero (if that is the right word) Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted with himself, what he is really like, how his behaviour has hurt other people and the emptiness and shallowness of his idolatrous God, and he is changed, his life is permanently transformed, saved from himself.

Although I hope none of us are visited by Dickensian Ghosts on Christmas Eve(!) yet I would like us all this Advent, Christmas and New Year to be a time of reflection, insight and of changed and transformed lives.

Scrooge is a great picture of repentance, not just mumbling a half-hearted ‘sorry’ to God but actually turning his life around 180 degrees, a complete turn-around going in the opposite direction (did you know the Romans would shout “Repent” to mean “about Turn”).  More-over Scrooge’s transformation is not a few good intentions before returning to his old ways –like a Dog returning to its vomit or a sow going back to wallow again in the mud! (to use a great image from Jesus!).

No, The Story of Scrooge is a story of a leopard changing its spots.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us we are leopards who through Christ can change our spots. The cross, the resurrection and Pentecost proclaims that “how we were, how we have been, does not dictate our future of how we shall remain”.

As we approach the penitential season of Advent, a time to prayerfully look at ourselves and seek -with the Holy Spirits discerning but loving gaze- how we can become more Christ-like? What does it look like in our everyday lives to ‘pick up our cross and follow him?”

Traditionally Advent has been a season that gives us a chance to put ourselves right with God.

Traditionally Advent has been a season that gives us a chance to put ourselves right with one another.

Advent for the Christian can and should be a little like Christmas Eve for Ebenezer Scrooge, a time of looking at our lives and seeking transformation and change in the person we want to be.

A colleague of mine once talked about the “irresistible pull of a transformed life” which underpins the gospel message, the message of Christmas, a message made personal, a message worked out in the daily realities of our lives.

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Christmas, Uncategorized

Christmas Story Endings P3.

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to Theology…

One thing I am quite interested is the synoptic gospels, or rather why the gospels are different in places and what they are trying to say?

John, I think is a theologians story coming from a thoughtful wise old guy whose basically mopping up the stories of Jesus that haven’t been told (and he does rather tantalizingly leave the hint that more stories are about when he said if every story was written down there wouldn’t be books big enough to hold them all!)..

Mark was the earliest Gospel to be written, and probably his source for this was the disciple Peter.

Luke and Matthew probably read Mark and then did their own research and journey as they wrote their gospel narrative.

People say oh Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience and Luke for the Gentile Audience, but I don’t think this is right, for starters Luke starts and finishes his account in the temple and refers heavily to the old testament in his writings but interestingly their birth narratives are the opposite way around from what conventional wisdom would have us believe.

Matthew talks of Gentiles at the start of the Bible, people from ‘off the page’, finding and worshipping Christ, not to mention drawing attention to the Gentile blood that was in Jesus lineage with Ruth and Boaz.

..Not what a Gospel to the Jews would major on? Or perhaps it majors on these points as a head on challenge to the ideas that were too come re.jewish rituals like circumcision.

Luke on the other hand is all about people who believe they are written off being included, the shepherds unqualified and probably illiterate (which is why Jesus calling himself a shepherd later on is so culturally subversive), in fact even in the shepherding world the dud shift was the night shift, how much talent do you need to look after an asleep sheep.

Yet both are messages of inclusion, come from where-ever you are and encounter the King and Saviour.

Whoever you are, no one is too grand, intellectual or far away nor is anyone written off by being marginalised or disenfranchized kneeling before the King of Kings everyone was equal and everyone is equal.

I then began to think about the wisemen and the star.

They didn’t just appreciate and enjoy the star… They followed it.

In 2016 are we going to be people who grab the opportunity with both hands or be spectators from the sidelines.

They didn’t follow the star for a bit and then get distracted by a beautiful sunset or lovely waterfall…

One of the greatest problems in the Church (and in myself too) is distraction, so often we start with a noble and good calling, but we end up getting caught up with a million nice ideas and we never fulfill and complete what God has called us to do.

I once heard the advice, ‘keep going till I tell you to stop’, do we quit before the miracles kick in, especially when the deserts dusty and our camel is getting stroppy.

Yet the journey ended in Bethlehem, when the wise men took their eyes off the star, a bit like Peter took his eyes of Jesus when he walked on water and began to sink, and they used their own logic and world view that they ended up going to Herod and it all went wrong.

I think we think God’s plan must look a certain way, especially if it involves mission or church, but often we are simply trying to impose our baggage on God’s plan, a bit like David in Saul’s Armour.

A thought to finish with; a challenge to see and seize the moment in 2016, let us follow faithfully not turning to the left or the right and to finish faithfully where God has led us and to see what God has brought to birth happen in God’s time, in God’s way…

Let’s hold it lightly but faithfully.

But you might be reading all of this and think, God can’t use me, I’m no good…

but let me return to the shepherd, written off people who not only were the first to see Christ, but also the first evangelists, they told everyone what they had seen and heard and glorified God. God was glorified through them.

The question has never been “Can God use me?” but rather “Will we let him?”

And finally the last words in Luke’s narrative is about Mary treasuring all these things in her heart… God can and does and has used us, and will use us again if we let him.

Lets 2016, be a year when we say to God let us grab the moment and follow you faithfully and do everything your way, not my way or the way I think it should be done.

Two words that I think ought to sum up our response to 2016 are these “Obedience”& “Surrender”.

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