It’s Christmas!

Below is the script I wrote for BBC Radio Devon Sunday Service for Christmas 2016 (and I stand by every word, and many other words besides!):

 

I am going to be honest with you this morning.

And my honesty may cause concern, relief or perplexity in equal measure….or it may cause hope.

I don’t know when, exactly, I stopped liking what passes for a British Christmas.

I am at the stage now in my mid-40’s where I am simply tired of the whole merry-go-round.

Am I being unnecessarily melancholy; a party-pooper of Scrooge like proportions?  Probably.

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Not.

But also, possibly not.

I know I am not alone.

I know many people who will shop entirely online this Xmas to avoid the menacingly repetitive Christmas pop songs that blare out, over and over and over again.

To Noddy Holder, Johnny Matthis, Cliff Richard, Mud and all the others, thanks but….give it a rest!

I feel like Henry Thoreau’s line from his 19th c. book Walden hangs in the air:  “The mass of [people] lead lives of quiet desperation.”   The extended quote is more well known, “The mass of [people] lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.” 

I do wish Noddy, Johnny and Cliff had kept their songs inside them!

As a Baptist Minister in Torquay, my view has been received with a degree of astonishment!  Be that as it may!

“A minister who doesn’t like Christmas!”  said either in actual words or, most often, facial expressions!

“Is that even allowed?”

“Don’t church ministers have training in liking Christmas, and ensuring everyone else likes it too?”

Well, although there is enormous pressure to conform unthinkingly to a system of celebration that many people dread, ministers do not undergo a module at theological college called “How to like Christmas and why you must!” 

There is something in the air of Christmas, its impending approach, its imminence, its arrival, and of course the uncompromising aftermath of being full yet feeling empty.

It is a whiff of something we all smell, but keep to ourselves.

We daren’t mention it, lest we be thrown out of the party.

It is not the smell of mince pies and mulled wine, as delicious as that is.

It is the smell of a due sense of dread.

Continue reading “It’s Christmas!”

Killing the Pulpit

preaching-the-good-snoozePeter Taylor Forsyth refers to the Sacrament of the Word as the distinctly Protestant Sacrament that invests the pulpit with dignity.

In an 1885 sermon, he bemoaned the tendency of his age to depreciate the power of the spoken word.

He cites fellow preachers who bemoan their Sunday Sacramental duty, contemptuously attending to Sundays when they would rather be about their so-called “practical” work during the week!

And then he says this……

“And we are constantly pressed with the demand for short sermons.  I believe myself that short sermons are mostly themselves too long.  The man whose preaching is simply tolerated has no right to preach as long as ten minutes.  The man whose preaching is welcomed has no right to be as short as twenty.

We listen gladly to political speeches of an hour [and in our day we could add TV and cinema], and the reason is that we have an interest, amounting to a passion for the subject.  Let us have enough knowledge of the subject of religion [Christianity] as to choose only competent men for ministers, and let it be so real and passionate to us that we take pleasure in what our prophet or expositor has to say for an hour if he likes.

I don’t hint that all sermons should be an hour long.  But I do think short sermons are killing the pulpit and sending the people to the altar or platform.”

P.T.Forsyth, 1885 sermon entitled ‘The Pulpit and the Age’ in Jason Goroncy’s collection of Forsyth sermons entitled ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’ pg.134

The reason this caught my attention was the reference to the limited attention spans of (1885) Christians who hear preaching regularly.  Current educational methods espouse a whole range of styles that are designed to engage the weary listener and to keep them engaged [we genuinely do live in a short attention-span age and I think it is because of the celebrated fact of our information-saturation age].  Preaching has had a bad rap because it is now common parlance that preaching is nothing more than a monologue by a moron to mutes.  When preaching is the merely lame passing on of information, of facts, of “truths”, then we will reap a harvest of chaff and weed.

Bad preaching by a bad preacher to spiritual infants may make that crass statement true, but genuine biblical preaching, with a man or woman filled with the Spirit of God, after seriously engaging study and prayer, wrestling with the Word of the text for the people of God, a people who should come willing and expectant, is going to be alive with prophetic power enough to raise the dead.  Preaching is not about mere information, but confrontation and transformation; not information but wisdom.  Not good ideas for nice people, but God’s salvation plan for redeemed rebels.  Preaching is the sword that pierces our hearts too!

There is no place for boring sermons by boring preachers to bored people.  But there will always be a place for sermons preached by men and women called and equipped by God to preach the Word of God in a manner that is at once insightful, challenging, piercing and winsome, that the Church may be built up into the glorious likeness of Christ.

 

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