Christmas present

As I am recycling at the moment (eg Nora the Noisy Angel) I thought I would recycle a ‘thought for the week’ I sent to the Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association this week.

giftI had a clever mailing from a well-known Swedish furniture store come through my letter box last week. On the front it said, “Christmas is all about the present.” I groaned inwardly and decided not to open it because it was so far from what Christmas is all about. I was about to recycle it but curiosity got the better of me and I opened it. The text inside reads, “It’s the present (not the presents) that counts. And those moments with loved ones are the best of all…”

“That’s clever,” I thought to myself, “I wonder if I can include that in a Christmas message?” And then I started to reflect on whether it really is all about the present:

Advent is a season of time-travel. We travel back in time to the period before BC became AD and anticipate Jesus’ arrival. We empathise with the longing of his people for God to act. We hope and pray for a better future. We lament. We ache. We wait.

Christmas Carol Services and Nativity Plays are wonderfully nostalgic (which is why they are attended by the regular ‘once a year at Christmas’ part of our church family). They are a familiar touching place with the Unchangeable Story (which we soon discover if we dare to change things too radically). Of course they can also be incredibly poignant and painful for those who are reminded of past loss. In these moments the past is triggering our emotional response to the present.

And yet, in the midst of it, is the small voice of a child crying in a cattle feeding trough reminding us that this is the season of God, the eternal One, with us – Immanuel . In the present.

Christmas really is all about the present, God present with us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

nora the noisy angel

In the interests of recycling I am reposting something I wrote 3 years ago. It’s the text for a story that you might like:

Nora the noisy angel*

nora-the-noisy-angelHeaven was normally a calm, quiet place. It was peaceful, gentle and lovely. The angels would talk to each other in gentle whispers because it was so quiet.

Except for Nora. She could not speak quietly. If one of the other angels whispered, “Good morning Nora,” she would respond in a loud voice, “GOOD MORNING!”

If one of the angels whispered, “How are you?” Nora would bellow, “I’M WONDERFUL THANK YOU, HOW ARE YOU?”

And when the angels suggested that Nora should speak more softly she would shout, “I’M SPEAKING AS SOFTLY AS I CAN!”

The other angels called her Noisy Nora and that made her a bit sad. She wanted to be quiet but didn’t know how.

One day Nora heard that they were holding auditions for a very special choir of angels. She was very excited and went along. Thousands of angels were singing in sweet harmony: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to everyone!” It was a lovely, inspiring, melodic sound.

When it was Nora’s turn she tried her hardest. But instead of a gentle harmony she sang at the top of her voice, “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND PEACE ON EARTH TO EVERYONE!”

“I’m very sorry Nora” say the angel choirmaster, “You’re too noisy. We can’t hear anyone else.”

Nora was really sad. She knew that the choir were practising for the most exciting moment since God had said, “Let there be light!” and she couldn’t be a part of it.

She went and sat down on a small cloud and cried.

She was still crying when she noticed that it had got brighter around her. She looked up and saw the Kindest Face.

“Hello Nora,” said the Kindest Voice.

“HELLO!” she said loudly, instantly feeling guilty about speaking so loudly to Him.

“I’ve got an important job for you,” said the Kindest Voice. And He whispered in her ear to tell her what He wanted her to do.

The next day the massive choir was ready, lined up in the darkness, waiting to sing their special song in honour of the special baby. They all waited for their cue. Then they noticed Nora walk out in front of them and step out from behind the night curtain in front of a group of startled shepherds.

“DON’T BE AFRAID!” shouted Nora in her loud voice, so everyone could hear, “I’VE GOT GOOD NEWS FOR YOU. IT’S NEWS THAT WILL CHANGE THE WORLD FOREVER! A SPECIAL BABY HAS JUST BEEN BORN IN BETHLEHEM. GOD’S COME INTO THE WORLD AND YOU CAN FIND HIM WRAPPED UP WARM AND LYING IN A MANGER!”

That was the cue for the rest of the angels. The night curtain was raised and the massed choir sang their special song: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to everyone.”

The night curtain came back down and the angel choir went back to heaven. Nora peeped through and watched as the shepherds faces shone and they hurried off down the hill into the village to find the baby.

When Nora got back to heaven the rest of the angels cheered and shouted and made such a fuss of her because she had done such an amazing job with her loud voice. And Nora could see the Kindest Face beaming at her.

She was so pleased that for the first time in her life she whispered, “Thank you.”

I have worked out some lyrics for a song that can be sung to the tune of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer after the story has been told:

Nora the noisy angel
Didn't have a quiet voice
And if you ever heard her
You'd be deafened by the noise
Nora just couldn't whisper
Her voice was always far too loud
She only had one volume
That echoed loud around the clouds

'Glory to God on hi-gh'
Went the special angel song:
'Peace on the earth as well'
And Nora went along
She sounded like a foghorn
Drowning all the harmonies
She couldn't join the choir
And sing the baby-melody

As she cried upon her cloud
She heard the Kindest Voice
"I have got a job for you -
I need to use your mega-voice"

Nora spoke to the shepherds,
She didn't need a microphone.
She told them about the baby
Born to bring us all back home.
When she went back to heaven
How the other angels cheered.
And Nora's First Christmas message
Echoes down across the years.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*If you like the story and want to use it, feel free. If you fancy giving me a credit that would be nice.

one another

A while ago I created some visual clues to a series of phrases from the Bible that all relate to ‘one another’ – how we should treat one another and be with one another. I remembered this recently and offer them to you for your amusement and perhaps edification. The answers are at the bottom of the page and I apologise for any brain strain this may cause…

Enjoy!4-give

 

serve

lettuce-spray-4practice-hospital-teafellow-ship

bee-de-votedconfused-voleon-her

bear with.JPGharm-on-kneea-gry

forgive one another; serve one another; let us pray for one another; practice hospitality to one another; live in fellowship with one another; be devoted to one another; love one another (it’s a vole); honour one another (on her); bear with one another; live in harmony (harm on knee) with one another; agree with one another (angry with ‘n’);

 

dubious dates

datesNo, not that sort of dates.

And not romantic dates… or rather, yes, romantic dates but not that sort of date either.

Let me explain. The curmudgeonly part of me occasionally got a bit cynical about some of the anniversaries that are celebrated nowadays. There seems to have been a slide towards esoteric and trivial reasons to celebrate something. It used to be things that we would celebrate things like 100 years since someone’s birth or death; or 200 years since the founding of an organisation; or 50 years since a significant event.

But then it seemed to slither down that slippery slope towards the banal and we started celebrating every 25 years: 25, 50, 75, 175 and so on. And now we seem to be invited to celebrate any anniversary with a ‘0’ at the end – 10, 20, 90, and so on. Is it just me that thought that this is a bit much? Is it just me that cynically wondered whether it was more about marketing than celebrating?

But I have changed my mind about these dubious dates. You see I think we should take every possible opportunity to celebrate. In fact we shouldn’t even wait for a special anniversary, we should celebrate whenever we can and whatever we can.

Celebrate the fact that you woke up this morning (even if you felt under the weather).

Celebrate the person who last made you laugh or smile.

Celebrate the food that you most enjoy eating.

Celebrate what you appreciate about other people.

And so on.

And in celebrating we can also express gratitude – to the people around us who bless us, encourage us, serve us, love us and stand with us; to those who have gone before us in life who have helped to bring light and joy into the world; and, dare I suggest, to God who made us, loves us and wants to be involved positively in all aspects of our life in the same way that a good parent wants to encourage, bless, support and love their children, who has made himself known in Jesus and who is with us by his Spirit.

I have often written about having asking God’s Spirit to help me grow an attitude of gratitude but now I am also asking God’s Spirit to cultivate and integrate a desire to celebrate.

And that leads me to the romantic aspect of the dubious dates (and possibly where my wife will roll her eyes when she reads this). I am not going to get all mushy and soppy here but I have worked out that today is the 10,000th day since Sally and I got married! And that’s something to celebrate. I should point out that I have not been keeping a running score since the day we got married – I got the internet’s help in doing the calculation a couple of months ago.  I am not telling you to brag or boast, but in order to invite you to find something to celebrate: in the Bible we (in churches at least) are encouraged to rejoice with those who rejoice as well as weeping with those who weep.

So why not join me and seek God’s help to cultivate and integrate a desire to celebrate, and do so with an attitude of gratitude (and possibly a surfeit of rhymes!)?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

time for Remembering

clocksFor those leading services on Remembrance Sunday it can be one of the most fraught days of the year. It is not necessarily because of the content but because most services start before or at 11am on the Sunday and we have to incorporate the 2 minutes’ silence at the right time. This requires a level of timing, anticipation, clock-watching and ‘seat of the pants’ ministering that can raise the blood pressure of even the most relaxed of Revs.

This year I was ministering at one of the churches I serve as a Regional Minister. Their service starts at 10am. The first part of the service was led by church members (really thoughtfully and sensitively) and then I stood up to preach. Normally it’s only those listening to me who have an eye on the clock, but this time I was keeping an eye on the time too. I was amused that during the sermon, just as I was reading Psalm 23, the town parade went past the outside of the church with a band playing at the head of the procession. The band stopped playing just as I finished reading the Psalm. I told the church that it was appropriate as the psalms were originally sung to music!

The sermon finished at about 10.45.

That would not normally be a problem with a view to having 2 minutes of silence at 11.00.

But the church also also wanted to share Communion* after the sermon and I wasn’t sure whether we would have time. We also had a song to sing before Communion. I invited people to sing and afterwards I led the church into sharing the bread and wine.  The sermon had been on Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” and I made a link with that and that he invited his followers to share bread and wine “In remembrance of me”. I broke the bread and shared it with those who were serving and they took it out to the congregation at about 10.50. It’s a large congregation which meant that serving the bread took a while and we finished that at 10.57.

Are you feeling the pressure too?

I knew that we would not be able to serve the wine in 3 minutes so I took the decision to have the 2 minutes’ silence in the middle of Communion. So I introduced what we were going to do and at 11.00 we stood in silence for 2 minutes, after which I read the familiar ‘they shall not grow old’ words and prayed. We then sat and continued with Communion as the wine was served in small cups to each person and we drank together and once again reflected on Jesus who died for us.

After the service lots of people said how much they had appreciated that we did things that way, and few seem to have realised that it was not by my design. And I was blessed by the experience too – I reflected on the act of Remembrance in the light of Communion and Jesus saying, “Greater love has no-one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” I reflected on Communion in the light of the act of Remembrance and what it means – more than just keeping a memory alive. The unplanned order of things was very poignant and significant to me.

Reflecting on it all now, a couple of days afterwards, I realise that God often does that… he takes our plans and if they don’t turn out the way we intended he finds a way of speaking in and through the ensuing disruption. So for some of Jesus’ friends who went on a fishing expedition that proved fruitless he turned it into an encounter with him that they would remember for the rest of their lives (John 21). And, if I am honest, that’s so often what inspires me to write bloggages – unexpected moments turn into moments when God speaks to me. Maybe it’s because in those moments I realise that I am not in control and need to reconnect with the One who simply is.

I suppose the question is whether, in the disruption, we try to listen to what God might be saying or whether we are too busy trying to resolve things ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Bread and Wine – depending on your tradition

more negative than an electron

dark-cloud-1539729

I am fed up with negativity (I recognise the irony of this statement). All of us have the capacity to be negative (unless you are a proton) but for some reason we humans seem to focus on negatives and ignore positives. I was having a conversation with someone yesterday who remarked that we need 10 positive comments to outweigh one negative one. I am not sure about the ratio but there is some truth in there: we seem to give more weight to negative comments than positive ones.

And, sadly, we humans can be quicker to offer negative comments than we are to offer positive ones. When we offer criticism it requires less thought to make a negative statement than to offer constructive criticism. This is probably why a lot of criticism is thought-less – we don’t think about the impact on the person receiving it we just want to make our statement and feel self-righteous.

Negativity can become a downward spiral too. One negative comment about us can lead us to think negatively about ourselves and others and then make negative comments about others and so on.

So, instead, what if we all resolved to do what Paul wrote to one of the early churches: “Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? Can you imagine the difference it would make to other people if instead of negative comments they received encouragement and we built them up? Imagine the newspaper headlines if editors had that attitude!!

Who will you encourage today? Who will you build up? (And if someone does that for you, thank them and receive it).

Be blessed, be a blessing