Christmas presence

As Christmas day gallops gleefully towards us I thought it may be time for a more serious reflection than some of the fluffy frivolity of recent days. So here goes…

The ten best things of this Christmas so far (in no particular order):

Hosting carol services and nativity plays for a local school on our premises – lovely to see our buildings being used by the wider community. I especially loved the bit in one of the plays where a vicar (modelled on me?) welcomed people to our church on Christmas day and reminded them that the church was open for the rest of the year too. It was lovely to be invited to (and to attend) a carol service at another local school with whom we have links too, and to organise the Essex University Carol Service.

Shopping for presents – it’s a season for giving after all. It’s all right when people ask you for particular things, but there is something extra special about buying something for those you love that will be a surprise for them. (The only danger is that I get more excited about it than they will on receiving the gifts!)

Get In The Picture – we have got involved in this in a different way this year and hundreds of people have participated and had their photos taken in our ‘end of the pier nativity’. It’s been brilliant fun and I hope has helped people realise that the Christmas story can be enjoyed by everyone, and that there is a place for everyone in Jesus’ story. It has also provided us with the image for our church Christmas card. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped with this.

Carols by Candlelight – a wonderful service of carols and Bible readings. Our choir did themselves proud, the musicians were wonderful, the soloists were brilliant, the readers were great, the candles were atmospheric (if electrical), there were lots of visitors and there was a very special feeling about the service. It flew by (which I think is a good sign). If you want to hear my brief message (perhaps the shortest ever by me) it’s here (Jesus’ family tree).

The Nativity service – our children and young people had worked as hard (or harder) than anyone this Christmas and prepared a service that was special in its simplicity, fun and engaging, thought-provoking and powerful, joyful and triumphant. The highlight (as I have said before) was the acting as Mary encountered the angel – surprise personified!

Christmas lunches – so far I have had three. All were very different. There was a lunch for the older folk associated with our church, in which children from a local school came and sang some Christmas songs. There was a lunch for those who come to our Open Door ministry, including some homeless friends. And there was a lunch for over 100 of our church family after the nativity service. I have been immensely impressed by the skill of our caterers, the service of many people, the fellowship and friendship, and reminded of the importance of eating together. Highlight in this category was when I asked the Open Door friends to join in singing some carols along with recordings. We sang the first two verses of ‘O come all ye faithful’, I gave a short talk and could see that when I announced another song quite a few people were looking fed up. They changed their tune (literally) when they heard the opening bars of ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ by Slade!

Giving Christmas cards to the shops around us. We are very much a town centre church: surrounded by shops. I took copies of our Christmas card (see above) to all of the retailers in Eld Lane (the street on which we are located). It was great seeing the surprise on the faces of those who received the cards and my Christmas greeting. It was even lovelier seeing some of them having stuck the card up on display later in the day.

Anonymous gifts – not so much a secret santa, but I have been able to facilitate giving a couple of generous anonymous financial gifts from a couple of people in our church to others in order to bless them at Christmas – no ‘bah humbug’ here!

Christmas talks – I reckon I have prepared at least eight different Christmas-themed talks / sermons this year so far. Because they are all different it has enabled me to receive a wonderfully eclectic experience of the Christmas narrative this year. My encounters with the baby in the manger have been varied and have inspired me (if nobody else!).

Silent nights – there have been some beautifully peaceful moments when I have been in our church on my own after everyone else has left and I have experienced a mixture of a sense of well-being that the events went well, peace and calm after the activity, but mainly simply a sense of God’s presence and joy – which is what Christmas is all about!

And it’s not even Christmas day yet!!!!

open-mouthed amazement

When we visit my sister I always have to take some magic tricks to show my niece Bethany. (She’s 18, by the way!). I love doing this because she is such an appreciative audience and keen participant.

Imagine the scene from our last visit, earlier this month. I give a playing card to Bethany,who signs it. I fold it into four and she clenches it between her teeth. I take a second playing card, sign it, fold it in four and clench it between my teeth. We touch playing cards and I ask her to take out the card that was in her mouth and open it as I do the same. She has my signed card and I have hers.

Cue open-mouthed astonishment from Bethany (she is my best audience) and a sense of satisfaction that I have managed to pull off a trick that I saw someone do on the TV and worked out myself.

Look at this from Bethany’s perspective and then imagine how it felt to be there when Jesus healed the sick, fed multitudes with very limited resources, even raised the dead. Open-mouthed astonishment? We can become so used to reading about Jesus that we can forget the incredible nature of the things he did. The one who established the immutable laws of science – gravity, laws of motion and so on, was bending them and transcending them in order to demonstrate God’s love and begin the ushering in of the new era of God’s kingdom coming on earth.

Look at the same events from my perspective and then imagine how Jesus felt when people were flocking to him because of the amazing things he was doing. I was chuffed. But Jesus… he responded to need out of compassion, he didn’t do magic tricks to impress. Many of the crowd were looking to see something spectacular. Many people were delighted but not transformed. It made little difference to them. Ultimately that lack of life-changing response meant that the crowd who cried ‘Hosanna’ on Palm Sunday could scream ‘crucify’ on Good Friday. I think it must have been really difficult for him to have been misunderstood, ignored and opposed when all he was doing was seeking to be God’s love in action.

Do you need to sit in open-mouthed amazement at Jesus?

Do you need to consider whether your motive is to be appreciated or to be a blessing?

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

An Amish boy and his father were visiting a large shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, “What is this, Father?” The father responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don’t know what it is.”

While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed an old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched small circles of lights w/numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful 24 year old woman stepped out.

The father’s mouth dropped open in amazement and then he said to his son, “Go and get your Mother.”

what is your body trying to tell you?

You start to feel like your body is trying to tell you something when you have to make appointments with the Doctor and Dentist in the same morning. Both are fairly routine appointments. Perhaps I am feeling sorry for myself because I went to bed last night feeling fine and woke up with back pain and a sore arm. What was I doing in my sleep? Or what was Sally doing in my sleep?

When David wrote Psalm 139 I reckon he had not had an uncomfortable night’s sleep and had not had to book appointments with the Doctor and Dentist:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

(Psalm 139:13-14)

Of course the way our bodies work is astonishing. Even when we are at our most incapacitated our bodies are still remarkable feats of biological engineering. Even the simple task of typing on a computer keyboard requires hand-eye coordingatyubin, cognitive ability to spel, sight, muscle movements, and many other functions in addition to the regular stuff like breathing and heart-pumping!
Just reflecting on this sends shivers down my spine at God’s incredible genius to have imagined all of this. Regardless of whether you believe God created us in one moment or through evolutionary processes, it’s still incredible.
Yup. David knew his stuff:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

(Psalm 139:13-14)

So do you? Praise God for how he has made you? You may think you are the most gorgeous person ever to walk the face of this planet, the pinnacle of humanity, or you may think that a slug is more handsome than you. Neither of those is true, but even if they were, it is still true that God has made you amazingly.

A professor was fed up with his students rolling in late to his lectures with bad hangovers. He decided to demonstrate the effect of alcohol on the human body.

He got a large jug and silently filled it with beer at the front of the lecture theatre. His students watched as he took out a worm and dropped it into the beer.

For a moment the worm wriggled, then it went stiff and died.

“What does this teach you?” asked the Professor pointedly.

There was an embarrassed silence until one student put up his hand.

“If you have worms, drink beer!”