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!”

The Smell of Christmas

 

Luke 2:7-8  ‘The Smell of Christmas’

What is the smell of Christmas to you?

For the smell of Christmas, we can only go to certain places in the Bible.

We would think the obvious place is the Gospels.

Well, Bingo! in Matthew and Luke;

But not a wiff in Mark and John.

 

Maybe Paul will write something about Jesus coming as a baby…..er, no. Nothing!

Even Revelation starts with the Cosmic Christ walking among the stars;

but nothing of the earthling Jesus lying among the animals.

 

Oh wait….I hear Christmas carol…..

Maybe ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ can help us…

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

 

Oh this one irks me!  It really ruffles my feathers!

The writer Cecil Alexander must have been having a brain freeze.

There is something quite wiffy about this part of his song….

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,

Where on this tiny rice crisp of a planet did he get that from?

There is only one recorded instance of Jesus as a child, after the flight to and from Egypt.  In fact he was 12, and in the first century, on the cusp of manhood.

Luke 2:41-50 tells us Joseph and Mary journeyed home for a whole day before they realized the 12 year old Jesus was not with them.

When they find him back in Jerusalem (that’s two  days on the road not knowing where he is), in the Temple discussing theology with the professors and doctors, they chide him for “treating them [badly v.48]”.  I mean, where did he sleep; what did he eat; who was he with?  Who provided these things?

Jesus tells them v.49:  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?”  But they did not understand

Thus the line in the Carol that goes:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Really gets my goat!

What manipulative Victorian manure….

Which brings me back to the question:  What is the smell of Christmas?

Maybe ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ will help us!

Silent night, holy night…… 50% right!

How can screaming birthing mothers, animals in a barn, noisy neighbours and choirs of angels singing to shepherds possibly be silent!

Everything about this would freak us out if it happened to us.

But it’s been softened, smoothed, glossed, abstracted and sentimentalized.

Birthing mothers are not silent.

I’ve attended 4 births……..my own three……and of course, my own!

My first words were:  “What’s wrong mum?  Why are you screaming and why has dad fainted?”  Not bad for a 10 second old baby!

Animals don’t respect human social conventions.

They can’t read; They weren’t there when the angel told Mary she would have a son.

They might have thought it was ‘a bit odd’ that big humans were releasing little humans into the barn, but other than that, their toilet habits (for example), would have remained the same.

But we really must avoid this blandness that doesn’t reflect human reality, and therefore, biblical reality.

We need to defy the fantasy makers.

Not just out there in a culture that would see you spend so much in December it wouldn’t even care if your home got re-possessed in January.9780802841285

That’s why credit cards really should be called debt cards.  It’s words; words; words.

And defying the fantasy makers is why one theologian (Don Cupitt) has famously  called Christmas:  “The Disneyfication of Christianity.” (NB. At least he got that right amidst a whole career of re-imagining Christianity in the extreme.  Anthony Thiselton has a masterful couple of chapters in response to Cupitt’s theological vision in Interpreting God and the Postmodern self….but I digress…).

 

Maybe Cupitt’s phrase inspired the song ‘One God’ by the pop group The Beautiful South in the late 1990’s (or maybe vice-versa), with their prophetically provocative lyrics:

d658e184c2e606511c1a788a89427ade-800x800x1The world is turning Disney and there’s nothing you can do
You’re trying to walk like giants
But you’re wearing Pluto’s shoes

[Chorus]
And the answers fall easier from the barrel of a gun
Than it does from the lips of the beautiful and the dumb
The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun
With Coca Cola clouds behind a Big Mac sun

  Continue reading “The Smell of Christmas”

Sweeter to your taste

Art of reading ScriptureI came across this wonderful reference from a 12th century sermon in the excellent book ‘The Art of Reading Scripture’, page 208.

The quote is by Guerric of Igny, Liturgical sermons, vol. 2, translated by ‘Monks of Mount Saint Bernard, CF 32, 1971, page 81.

“What I have placed before you brethren, is like an egg or a nut; break the shell and you will find the food. Beneath the image of Joseph you will find the Paschal Lamb, Jesus, the one for whom you yearn. The great depth at which he is hidden and the diligence necessary in seeking him and the difficulty you will have in finding him will only make him sweeter to your taste. . . . And so here is the explanation in a nutshell: If we think with faith and reverence about the meaning of his name (Gen 30:24 : Joseph=”May He Add”; sounds like Heb. ”He has taken away” – my comment). . . . That after he had been sold by his own he redeemed his own from death, that he was humbled even to imprisonment, then elevated to a throne, and was rewarded for his work by being given a new name among the nations (Gen 41:45) – ‘The Saviour of the World’ – if we think about all these things reverently and faithfully, we shall surely recognize how truly it was said by the Lord (Hos 12:10), “Through the prophets, I gave parables.”

 

God chose Judas when he could have so easily chosen me!

“So after recieving the morsal of bread, [Judas] immediately went out.  And it was night.”  John 13:30

“Then Judas Isacriot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray [Jesus] to them.  And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him some money…”  Mark 14:10-11

“Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”  Matthew 26:46

“Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”  Luke 22:48

“And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and went and hanged himself.”  Matthew 27:5

Figo-JudasThe name ‘Judas’ is now more than a name.  It is synonymous in many cultures with a term of insult, the lowest form of slander, the highest charge of wrong-doing.  It is not a name we choose for our children, nor our dogs.  We don’t like Judas.

Continue reading “God chose Judas when he could have so easily chosen me!”

Doormat Theology

Some random aphorist thoughts – the product of walking my dogs!

 

Grace as ‘Great Riches At Christ’s Expense’ is nearer to pietistic wish-wash rather than ‘God’s holy love hating sin and redeeming it in Christ’s cross, and creating in the penitent sinner new life and moral amendment.’ Though as an acronym the latter is rubbish.

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Atonement is not only a film starring Kierra Knightly but the great power of God working salvation for the entire cosmic order.

 

Love is not merely anthropic love for another person (who we’ve already decided we like and therefore ‘will love’).

 

Salvation is not a meagre ‘tipping in’ to ‘heaven’. The older son had an ‘I’m in’ theology, and look at the state of his heart!

 

Pastoral Care is not the flip or flop of a liver lilied do-gooder or crowd pleaser (who actually never really does ‘do good’ nor ‘please crowds’).

 

Sin is not ‘other people or countires’ nor is it a meaningless philosophical abstraction, even if you really do believe the comfy suburban mantra: I’m not that bad thank you very much.

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Prophecy is not sloganeering, be it political or religious. Oh, and prophets actually know their Bibles, especially Obadiah chapter 2.

Continue reading “Doormat Theology”

Resurrection Changes Everything

“Resurrection Changes Everything”

A Sermon: First Sunday after Easter

Luke 23:50-56 & 24:1-12

Resurrection changes everything!
Resurrection grabs the attention like nothing else.
Resuscitation is possibly good news for a brief time;
Resurrection is Good News for eternity.
Resuscitation may bring us back to humanity temporarily;
Resurrection brings us to God for ever.
Resurrection is not resuscitation.
Resurrection is not renovation, regeneration or regurgitation.

Christians are recipients of resurrection:
We know the actual word, probably too well;
We read the Scriptures, probably too quicky;
And we benefit from resurrection, probably (mostly), too carelessly.

Resurrection changes everything!

Continue reading “Resurrection Changes Everything”

Easter Day Baptism, Naughty Kids and Motherwell FC

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Romans 6:3-4

In baptism, we experience and partake in something extraordinary.
It is the belief and practise of a Church to baptise, to dunk, to plunge people into water, whilst promises are made.
Extraordinary yes! Weird? Certainly.
What makes rational adults choose to do such a brazenly embarrassing thing? In front of their friends and family too! In front of witnesses!

Not only is Easter Day the high point of the Christian calendar, but Baptism is the high point of human experience.
It is no accident that without water there can be no life.
It is not a qwerk of creation that water is the key to life.
It is not by accident that Jesus links Himself with Living Water (Jn 7:24).

So what does this all mean? We have all heard of baptism before, some have been done themselves; some have seen many baptisms and others have only seen and heard what the TV or the papers have said.

Christianity is about water; It is about Baptism. Most of our lives we try to order and control ourselves. We try to look good, stay dry; as our English proverb goes, we try to ‘keep our heads above water.’

BaptismThis wonderful painting is by Christina Ramos over at christinaramosart.com

Continue reading “Easter Day Baptism, Naughty Kids and Motherwell FC”

Be the Light

I was walking the dogs recently and came across this lamp-post, an unusual vision that stopped me in my tracks. It is clearly an older light, probably not even working, neglected and almost over-run with, what my kids used to call “nature”!

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It reminded me of two possibilities for a believer in Christ:

First, positively, that it doesn’t matter what happens throughout your life, where you are placed, the one thing a Christian does is shine!  The weeds of nature may wrap around you with their lies and choking restrictions, but the Christian just keeps shining.

Jesus called His followers the “light of the world” in Matthew 5:14.  Paul urges the Christians at Philippi to “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).  And John encourages an “abiding in the light” as he writes “the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

20150124_094002-1-3Second, negatively!  The street light had succumbed to the cares of the world.  The light wasn’t shining (admittedly is was day time – you shrewd reader)!  It looked tired and weary amidst a crooked and perverse generation, to use Paul’s words from Philippians.

Sometimes as Christians we can succumb.  The choking lies of Satan become too much, even when the vile serpent quotes Scripture at us as he did to Jesus in the wilderness, we know that in doing so he, the father of lies, knows the Bible better than we do.  And so we believe his lies, and the weeds choke, and our guilt condemns.

Maybe our light flickers, with degrees of brightness.  That’s surely a more realistic picture of the Christian life, not quite “dimmer-switch Christianity”, but not far off.  Our mood or whatever transient event that shapes our mood is the controller on the dimmer-switch of our life and determines our level of faith, our ability to shine, our sheer pressing in to Christ despite the garbage that grows around and on us.

Jesus called His followers the light of the world because He is the Light of the world.  Light just is, and darkness doesn’t stand a chance in the presense of light.

Just as a light on a hill cannot be hidden, the Light of the world on the hill of Calvary cannot be hidden.  Even in death and buried in a tomb, the Light is working to bring about a resurrection that will transform everything.

I guess for me, the challenge of this old lamp was a reminder that the Gospel will always have enemies and opponents.  Light exposes darkness no matter how lovingly we do it.  I am called to shine!

In one sense, it simply doesn’t matter what grows all over it, just don’t let it be because your light has gone out.  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Jesus is the Light of the world.

You are the light of the world.

So shine!

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