Tag Archives: Christmas

Back to (Super-) Normal.

Christmas is over; reluctantly we return to the “normal” – but our reading (we read Ephesians 1:3-14 this Sunday) will take us by a different route, and to a version of normal we would do well to study. Ephesians begins by reminding us of our blessings – but not to follow it with some stern admonition to get back to work. Jesus was chosen, and we are chosen also to be adopted as children. This is part of God’s grace (for it doesn’t arise from anything else), something to be sung about and celebrated.

Then we hit verse 7 with surprise: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace”. Somehow we don’t expect to be talking about the sacrifice of Jesus, his death as the price of our forgiveness, at Christmas. It almost seems in bad taste, but let’s be careful. Whose agenda are we following here? Doesn’t the story of Christmas lead on? Apparently not, in the secular / supermarket / primary school version.

And why not? Because it doesn’t fit with a sentimentalised version of the story. But why should it? Surely our purpose is to tell the story of what God has done, not the story we re-written for children (what we think they would like), or our own amusement (leaving out the difficult bits). God’s story has a harder edge – bloodthirsty rulers and, yes, a baby born to die. Sacrifice – voluntary self-sacrifice – is always part of it, as is conflict, and disinterest, and struggle.

Our becoming God’s children is to be seen in this way, too. Yes, there is a genuinely and importantly emotional aspect of it. We are accepted, we belong, we find our true identity. And we are to grow up, to understand “the mystery of his will”; to know God and his plan, and to make it known. Our aim is not the easy life, but life “for the praise of his glory”.

Yes, we are leaving Christmas and going back to normal routine. But while the world leaves a fairy tale, ruined by reality, we take with us the strength gained from the story of God’s coming. We know that his coming is just the first part, and there is more to understand and celebrate. We know that, just as the gospel story will make demands on Jesus life, so we are asked to do more than stand and watch. We are to be drawn in, to growing commitment, to service, and to life as God’s children in reality, not in fiction.

“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians 1:11,12

A rather different, and much better, understanding of normal life, for those who will live it.

Work it out

Will your Christmas include playing games like “Cleudo”, or perhaps a retreat to enjoy a “whodunit” book, or maybe just the need to follow clues to find that missing item that is really essential?. In Romans 1:1-7, Paul is beginning his careful letter to Christians in Rome. Careful, because he hadn’t founded that Church. Though some there knew him, he also knew they had received mixed reports of him and his work.

He immediately makes clear his concern for the Good News, which is “concerning his Son ” 1:3 – and that is useful today, as so much of the Christmas fuss about us centres on anything but Jesus. Santa, presents, snow, choirboys and old churches, stagecoaches, wild animals, bells, – almost anything but Jesus.

But how were they supposed to know this? What made Jesus so different? How could they recognise Him, or justify their belief to others? This is where the clues come in and Paul lists 3:

  • v2 “the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,Jesus was the one the prophets pointed to, and their words could be checked against his birth, life and works. A good clue!
  • v3 ” who was descended from David according to the fleshThere were promises relating to a king in David’s family; both Matthew and Luke trace Jesus ancestors through David. Like the prophecies, this is another clue pointing to the importance of Jesus
  • v4 “and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the deadThe Resurrection is so clear a clue. It points not only to the importance of Jesus, but to his status as Son of God

What Paul said by way of introducing his gospel and himself to the Romans is still true, and still important. Why should we think our faith or way of life true? in what way can we say that it is better than any other? or anything more than a matter of opinion or personal choice?

Because it is about Jesus, and our conclusions about him rest on this evidence. He was the one who fulfilled the hopes of the prophets; he was the descendant of David who became the Great King; and he was the one who rose from the dead. You know the methods, you have the evidence -follow the clues to their conclusion, and encourage others to do the same!

The Result has been a dramatic change in Paul. He has changed from a proud and privileged Pharisee to “a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God”. His preaching has by this time continued for many years, and brought many to the faith, and the experience he prays for them in verse 7 “grace and peace”

As we dash on towards Christmas, take a moment to remember what its all about. Without Jesus, it is a very hollow celebration of the commercial power of advertising, of benevolence unsupported by reason, and hopefulness doomed to reality. There is Good News, but it cannot be separated from God’s Son,

  • recognised as the one the prophets spoke about,
  • the descendant of David
  • who rose from the dead to reign for ever

If he gives us grace and peace, it will be a present of real and increasing value..

Commitment!

Talk about commitment is not the sort of subject that makes you friends. Its so difficult to get right – it seems hard to please everyone. People tell you that you have to be committed in your relationships – you must make time, keep promises, be reliable even when others let you down. And, well you might manage that, if it wasn’t that – they say much the same thing at work, or in education, or even if you volunteer. “We want your commitment”, “You must give this priority”, “no excuses, 110% effort”.

Ah well, perhaps you can take some time off – sport, music, maybe a club of some sort. What happens? – we expect you to be there for training, practice, matches, concerts, evenings out. You have to be reliable, you’re no use unless . .  Instead of being relaxed, you find yourself exhausted. And that’s why we celebrate Christmas. Yes really.

“In the beginning was the one who is called the Word” (John 1:1-18) Right at the start, God is into communication – not shouting orders from a safe distance, but keeping in touch.  He creates, and in his creation is light.  But the real celebration is about commitment – His commitment to us, not ours to yet another responsibility!

“The Word became a human being and lived here with us” (verse 14)– that’s commitment for you! God comes to share our life, with all its risks and problems. The commitment shown in the Creation, in all the help and encouragement at critical moments, now takes baby form. He lives with us, he dies for us. That’s what we celebrate; that’s why we celebrate. His commitment, not ours. Later, we can ask about how we respond, but for the moment, just enjoy it!

Telling Christmas (Christmas III)

How do you tell the Christmas story? In the New Testament Luke tells the story as we know it best – angels visit John the Baptist’s father, and then Mary; there is a journey to Bethlehem, a stable, and the shepherds’ visit.  Matthew takes Joseph’s perspective, and tells us of the mysterious wise men.  Mark starts his gospel later, as the adult Jesus bursts on the scene set by John’s baptisms.

John? – John is more reflective.  (John 1:1-14)  He tells us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (v5)  But the English translations cannot quite get the word – “overcome” can also be “understood”.  (Check out the different translations!).

The darkness was pretty obvious.  The world in which the baby was born was violent, unjust, hard for many people in many ways.  You could say the same today – I don’t need to point out the problems of our world (political, ecological, military, medical . . ) or invite you to detail the problems and threats in your own life at the moment.  Of course the darkness doesn’t understand the light.  Those who need to win at all costs cannot understand love and service; those who don’t care if their lifestyle ruins a world for others will never want justice, let alone to share equally in God’s plans.

The point John wants to make – the Christmas point – is that the darkness has not put out the light.  It shines on.  Despite the plotting of Herod to murder all rivals, despite the indifference of the innkeeper and his favoured guests to the needs of a young, but poor, mother, the baby is born and shines.

That’s our celebration.  Not that everything is wonderful – there is still plenty of darkness – but that the light shines in it.  Where the light shines, the darkness is dispersed.  Each person chooses.  Either you welcome the light, following Jesus even when it is difficult, reflecting light into new corners; or you block the light, and leave others in your shadow.

But you can’t stop the light shining!  That’s good news.