the toughest challenge

I am about to embark on one of the most challenging tasks of the whole year… putting all of the finishing touches to our Carols by Candlelight service (Colchester Baptist Church, 6.30 pm, 18th December). It is not technically that difficult. We have already chosen all the carols and the readings more or less choose themselves. Many people are already working hard to prepare different aspects of the service.

The reason it is challenging is that in the midst of all the familiarity and nostalgia I would like to be able to offer a fresh perspective on Christmas to those who come along. How can I come up with something original about the most familiar story that has been retold for 2000 years? Last year I reflected on some of the carols and what they reveal about the one who ‘came down to earth from heaven’. But this year, at the moment of blogging, I have nothing.

I am not worried. I know that God’s Spirit is full of inspiration and if I stop trying to think of things on my own and start listening more he will offer me some guidance. The problem for me is how people respond to what I offer. If it is poor people won’t blame God’s Spirit. They won’t suggest that he had an off-day. They will look to me. I don’t mind that as, realistically speaking, the blame is much more likely to lie at my feet than his. But if it is wonderful, people can make the same mistake and give me the credit. While it is nice for to get an ego massage it is entirely the wrong outcome as far as I am concerned.

I want people to leave the service (and all services) saying, “Isn’t God amazing!?” Our aim (whether preparing services or living our daily routine lives) must surely be to point people towards God. If you were given a free sample of toothpaste or soap you might use it and may be influenced by the experience. But you would not spend all your time talking about the free sample, you would go and buy the product. So it is with us. We, as free samples of Jesus, are the means by which people encounter him, and we pray will be positively influenced towards him through us. But never let us (or anyone else) think that we are the real deal.

At this time of year some people venerate St Nicholas (Santa Claus). You see effigies of him everywhere (although it’s unlikely he had a bright red suit). But even St Nick* is not the main event. Jesus is the reason for the season. Christmas starts with Christ.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*In case you were under any illusions, the person creating this bloggerel is no saint – just ask my wife and family!

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