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.

Easter, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Resurrection

The Third Day…

“It’s FRIDAY but SUNDAY is coming” -Said Tony Campolo, but some you might be asking, what about Saturday, isn’t there anything to say about Saturday?

The THIRD Day appears often in scripture, obviously and most famously Jesus’ resurrection, but it was on the third day that Lazarus was raised from the dead and it was on the third day that the wine ran out at the wedding at Canna.

The first day is the event happens, the change is made, something is done, and the third day is the day when we see intervention, but the Saturday is a day of waiting, of watching, of faith (and of doubt),  it is a time of powerlessness, and a time of reflection.

We live in a world of cuppa soups and instant coffee, a rushing society, a society that wants everything yesterday, twitching impatiently whilst waiting for an instant broadband connection.

Waiting, complexity and the reality of the ebb of faith and the flow of doubt (and vice versa) are in many ways a gift, in the pressure and darkness of a rose-bud is what produces its colour and scent, the pressure, the waiting, the wrestle, the space to explore, the journey and not just the destination often teach us so much, and yet it is human nature to try and short-circuit waiting, watching, uncertainty and doubt, the time when (like the rose-bud) God wants to shape, fashion and work within us.

Sometimes, in the time of waiting, we encounter ourselves, not as we would like to be, but as we really are. I wonder whether the book of Acts would have ever been written had Simon-Peter not had time and space over the hours between the Crucifixion and beach encounter that ends the Gospel of John.

Growth is rarely instantaneous.

Shaping is rarely painless.

Pressure can turn a lump of coal into either a pile of dust of a beautiful diamond.

I was wondering whether the Third Day was a picture, not just of the time between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but actually a picture of the reality of the life we live in. We are people who live post-resurrection but we are also people who live pre-Christ’s final return.

In the resurrection we have salvation assured and the reign of the King begins but is yet to be fully realized until his return in glory to judge the world. Some have likened this to the time in between D Day (when the 2nd World War was won, and before the peace was declared in V.E Day (Victory in Europe Day). In many ways our whole lives are lived on something of a Holy Week Saturday, waiting patiently for the coming of the King. Living in the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ tension of life where we see the Kingdom breaking into ordinary lives but not in its fullness and entirety, where things aren’t always as we expect, want or hope, where we have questions of faith and doubt ebbing and flowing in our minds and lives.

Yet in this crucible time, are we letting God shape us, grow us, develop us and fashion us; he wants us to become diamonds not piles of coal dust, he wants the work he has done within us to be like the rose bud beautiful and fragrant.

So let us not rush to Sunday just yet, let’s be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and through us on the Saturday which will add the the beauty and richness of the arrival of the Sunday.

Lets not waste our Saturday, but say to God;

“What do you want to teach me?”

“What can I learn in this time?”

“How are you going to shape me?”

So let’s make the most of the Saturdays God gives us.

Easter, Resurrection

Some thoughts on Death and Resurrection.

A massive Easter theme as the whole story is about death and resurrection, but I was thinking about this as phase and pattern of life too.

We need death, sometimes things that were once full of life become redundant and need to die, so something new and beautiful can take its place, the classic example of this is of course the caterpillar which goes into its Chrysalis and comes out a butterfly (although some of us might argue that is only pseudo death).

I think sometimes we as Christians do play with pseudo death, we’ve not really died, we’ve just laid down for 30 seconds and held our breath, but the problem is when we do this we rob ourselves of very real resurrection.

Resurrection is so much more than re-branding and re-energizing a corpse.

Resurrection should never be mistaken for Resuscitation.

Resurrection can only follow death, real death.

Death has a sting, perhaps to admit something that has worked no longer works feels like failure?

Perhaps we have become so familiar with the status quo that we cannot imagine life without it?

Perhaps our very identity has become tied up with what has died/is dying.

Death feels final.

It is a laying down of visions and dreams, requiring us to trust in a resurrection that as yet cannot be seen.

We try to avoid death where possible, it is the last taboo in our society.

To be the one that administers death feels a massive responsibility, and yet somethings need to die, as it in kinder and more loving to elevate suffering that prolonging the agony.

Often everyone knows something has died, yet no one wants to admit that death has occurred, or is occurring, being the one who acknowledges the elephant in the room is a brave thing to do (often a bit like the child in the story of the Emperors’ new clothes, who noticed “the Emperor is in the nude!”) -Could God be calling you to be the Elephant spotter or the Child?

And yet without death we cannot have the glory of resurrection.

We have to pass through the sharpness of a Good Friday pain, the nothingness of Easter Saturday in order to witness resurrection on Sunday Morning.

We live in the moment, and we avoid the pain of Good Friday and the emptiness of Easter Saturday but leave us robbed of the glory of Easter day, resurrection day.

Jesus said that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground AND DIES it remains a single grain of wheat, but when it dies it yields a harvest of 10, 20 or 100fold!”

Too often as Church and as individuals we want to stay as one grain of wheat, rather than experience death and come out the other-side with a hundred fold harvest.

It is about laying down what’s in your hand to be ready to pick up something new.

Leaving behind something in order to move forward into something else.

In the scariness of the uncertainty, sacrifice, loss and emptiness we discover the miracle of new life, greater life and a new harvest.