permutations

playing cardsI have been working on a new magic illusion. If I am honest, I am quite chuffed with it, and used it when I auditioned to join the Mid Essex Magical Society. It can’t have been that bad because they accepted me!

It’s a card illusion with a twist. It’s a combination of existing techniques and a new (I think) reveal. I am not going to give away the secret, but if you ask me nicely I might perform it for you.

One of the things I love about magic illusions is the innovation that is involved in creating new ones. But most of the time they are drawing on existing basic principles that have been tested over time. Things like misdirection, the art of making the audience look where you want rather than where you don’t want, underpin most illusions. You could almost say that there is no such thing as a new magic illusion.

The same is true of Christmas. For over 2000 years people have been telling and retelling the story of the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem. How can there be anything new to say about it? It’s a challenge that vicars and ministers face every year: how do we say something innovative about the story that is so well known?

One option is to re-use material you have used before in the hope (or probability) that few people will remember, or at least that repetition will aid retention.

Another option is to use material that others have created. The danger with that is that someone else down the road may have done the same thing and you get caught out.

A third option is to seek fresh inspiration each year. It’s safest, because nobody will be able to say that you used that talk the previous year, or that they heard it at the church down the road. But it’s hardest because it requires more preparation and each year you have done something reduces the possibilities of coming up with something fresh.

And yet…

Just as magic tricks build on basic principles and come up with different permutations, so there are many permutations of the Christmas story that are based on the basic facts. There are more than you think. For example, there are 52! (52 factorial) different ways of arranging a deck of cards. That may not seem much, but it looks like this: 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000. I am told that that’s considerably more than the number of seconds that there have been since the Beginning of time! There’s lots of scope for variation and imagination.

And there is so much depth, richness, diversity, meaning, God-with-us-ness in the accounts of the birth of Jesus and what it means for us that I reckon 2000 years of re-telling has only just scratched the surface. There’s lots of scope for God-given imagination and variation.

And to see if you think I have anything new to say (setting myself up for a fall) I’d like to invite you to our Service of Lessons and Carols on 23rd December at 6.30pm. Come and hear the familiar story retold through the words of the Bible. Come and sing familiar carols. I reckon even in them you will find something new! You can find us here.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It was a few days before Christmas. The trip went reasonably well, and he was ready to go back home. The airport had turned a tacky red and green, and loudspeakers blared annoying elevator renditions of cherished Christmas carols.

Being someone who took Christmas very seriously, and being slightly tired, he was not in a particularly good mood. (Almost a Scrooge) Going to check in his luggage, he saw hanging mistletoe. Not real mistletoe, but very cheap plastic with red paint on some of the rounder parts and green paint on some of the flatter and pointer parts, that could be taken for mistletoe only in a very Picasso sort of way.

With a considerable degree of irritation and nowhere else to vent it, he said to the young lady who was checking people in: “Even if we were married, I would not want to kiss you under such a ghastly mockery of mistletoe.”

“Sir, look more closely at where the mistletoe is.”

“Ok, I see that it’s above the luggage scale which is the place you’d have to step forward for a kiss.”

“That’s not why it’s there.”

“Ok, I give up. Why is it there?”

“It’s there so you can kiss your luggage good-bye.”

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