Candles by Carollight

I was listening to one of my favourite Christmas CDs in the car today: Annie Lennox’s Christmas Cornucopia. She has a beautiful voice and the arrangements of the carols and songs are lovely. I find it very uplifting and inspiring. (In the middle of the collection of songs is a French carol, sung in French. I will come back to that later.)

I don’t know if Annie Lennox has an active Christian faith. But at the very least in recording these Christmas carols she will have a greater awareness of the nativity and what Christians believe about who Jesus is. I wondered whether those recording the songs regarded them as something spiritually significant or simply as a variety of folk song.

Worship BackgroundTonight I will be attending one of my favourite services of the year. (I am not sure I actually have a favourite, they are all special, but I think you know what I mean.) I love a traditional Carols by Candlelight service. This will be the first time for a number of years where I will be attending as a member of the congregation rather than being part of the planning and preparation and leading of the service. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (he says ironically as a coffee-drinker). I know some people who don’t find it uplifting (including some Ministers). That’s okay. There will be other services that bless them more.

But it’s also the service that sees attendance at church increase significantly because there is still enough residual affection for the service within our society that attending the Carol Service is an important part of what makes up Christmas. There will be a number of people there whose church attendance is limited to once a year – regular if not frequent!

Churches get quite excited by this annual influx and will also work hard at helping people to feel welcome and inviting them to increase the frequency of their attendance or deepen the level of their engagement with the church. Messages will be preached that explain that it’s not just a nice story but really happened and has significance for us today, that Jesus can be incarnate in our lives as much as he was in the stable. Friends and relatives will be there and Christians who invited them will be pleased that they came and heard the message and sang the carols. But should we be that excited? Singing the words of a carol will not make people a Christian any more than singing in French makes Annie Lennox a Frenchwoman (I told you I’d come back to that). And going to church won’t do that either, no matter how frequently we attend.

There will be people there tonight who come to enjoy singing the Carols and who need to hear that message, but who will go away untouched by the message. They will have sung their lungs out, enjoyed the atmosphere, appreciated the welcome, nommed the mince pies and will go away mentally ticking that off their to do list for Christmas without it making any difference to them.

Before you think I have gone all ‘Bah Humbug!’ on you, let me say that I am delighted that people come regularly once a year. I think it is important that we can provide this part of their Christmas experience. I think it is right that we offer a different perspective on the festival and remind people what it’s really about. I hope and pray that it will make a difference.

But it’s not the church’s job to make that change happen. It’s not even up to us (although we have to do the inviting). That’s up to God and the people who come. Let’s come with expectation of a special service, expectation that we will enjoy ourselves, and expectation that we will experience a fresh encounter with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

small children in the park, tea towels for goalposts?

kids footballThe text below comes from an article in today’s The Independent newspaper. Click on the link for the full glory of the article and cheesy pics.

Chelsea have made some star signings over the years but this one would trump the lot – that of Jesus Christ.

However, even with all his roubles, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich won’t be bringing the Son of God to Stamford Bridge. But a survey has found that 20 per cent of kids think he already plays for the Blues.

A total of 1,000 children were asked the following multiple choice question as part of a survey for Netmums: Who is Jesus Christ? a) A footballer for Chelsea b) Son of God c) TV presenter d) X Factor contestant or e) An astronaut

Incredibly, 20 per cent of the children asked at a shopping centre in Brent Cross went with option a).

Even if Jesus was available in the transfer market, one suspects Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who styles himself as the ‘Special One’, might feel uncomfortable about being upstaged by such a star name.

It might be possible the children confused Jesus Christ with Jesus Navas, who plays for Manchester City.

The discovery that many children believe Jesus plays for Chelsea wasn’t the only worrying finding. According to the results a quarter of them think the shepherds found the infant Jesus with the assistance of Google Maps and that more than half think Christmas Day marks Santa Claus’s birthday.

***article finishes***

So if you have any doubts about the significance of Nativity plays (tea towels included), Carol Services, Christmas School Assemblies and so on…

Be blessed, be a blessing

(corny joke alert)

The survey didn’t say what position they thought Jesus played but we all know he must be a goalkeeper because Jesus saves!

(you were warned!)

bad news good news

This week Microsoft announced that they were pulling the plug on their clipart. Apparently it was because so many of us now search for images online that there has not been much demand for clipart. That’s bad news. Not because I am a big fan of clipart. And I do search for images (royalty free) online.

sheep cartoon
a captured screenshot from a PowerPoint slide I created, hence the crosshairs!

But it’s bad news for those of us who are not good at drawing – it was a real blessing to be able to create images by using clipart. A few years ago I created this cartoon (left) using clipart. I had a concept but I needed ready-made components to be able to make the concept a reality. Now that Microsoft has withdrawn clipart I am either going to have to learn to draw, or find another source for the components I need.

I think that I have always had an affinity for the shepherds and angels part of the Christmas events.  I think the whole episode lends itself to all sorts of comedic interpretations and slants – for example the cartoon below (again created using clipart)Christmas Card 09, or Nora the Noisy Angel (last year). But most of all I like it because it shows that the incredible good news of God’s gift to humanity in Jesus is for everyone – even (or especially) those who were excluded from mainstream society.

Which indeed is “Good news of great joy for all people.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

A year with the Lears (2013 version)

Dear friends

letter c
A Christmas letter

It’s time for one of those lovely Christmas letters* from the Lears, where we bore you silly with our news and gloat about our successes. So, if you are kind enough to continue to read this we hope it might at least make you smile, and can guarantee it will make the cracker jokes you have tomorrow seem a lot funnier.

SONY DSC

Nick has a new hobby: he is writing film scripts. So far he has written three blockbuster epics – a trilogy about an ordinary disgraced policeman who realises that a master criminal has bought the world’s supply of indigestion remedies and will only sell them at triple the price. Meanwhile his henchmen have altered the recipe for pastry in order to make crusts inedible and it’s up to our hero to stop them on his own. The trilogy is called ‘Pie Hard’.

Nick got banned from a local pub this year but had thought it was a compliment. He did a poetry reading and the pub landlord said, “You’re bard!” Next year Nick will be performing magic at an international venue. (He is sure that someone from overseas must have been to Maldon Town Hall and at some point so that makes it international in his mind).

He has just started on the 5.2 diet – where you eat what you want for 5 days and then fast for 2 days. He says that the first 5 days have been brilliant.

Sally asked her gym instructor to teach her how to do the splits this year. When he asked her how flexible she was she told him that she could only do Wednesdays.

She has given up her job at the shoe recycling centre: it was sole destroying. She got the job after visiting a local shoe shop having heard they were selling recycled shoes. She was struggling to get one on and an assistant said, “Try it with the tongue out.” And she replied, “Itth thtill too thmall.”

Thomas has been working on a new computerised payment system based at the Vatican: Papal.

He went to the doctors and asked him if he had anything for wind. The doctor gave him a kite. This year he has broken the world record for giggling at the most flatulence-related jokes and noises.

>I'm back dook

He was impressed by recent research into feet. Apparently ducks have webbed feet so they can stamp out forest fires. And elephants have flat feet to stamp out burning ducks.

Hannah is still engaged to Olly Murs, but there is no wedding date yet. We’re keeping it quiet so that she is not inundated with attention from Hello and so that she does not receive too many death threats from other fans. She wishes you all an Olly MrsMurs.

Next year she will finish the supercar that she has been hand-building in her bedroom and will be allowing the team from Top Gear to drive it around their track… once she has worked out how to get it out of her bedroom.

She went to the local bakery in order to set up a bank account: it was a currant account.

Her geography teacher asked her if Sally helped her with her geography homework. “No,” said Hannah, “she did it all on her own.”

We wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Be blessed, be a blessing (with tinsel on as it’s Christmas)

*Any resemblance to actual events is completely coincidental and should be ignored. The rest of the family wish to distance themselves from these jokes and would like you to know that it’s all Nick’s idea.

it’s a cracker!

christmas crackers

Why are Christmas Cracker jokes so bad? They seem designed to illicit a groan rather than a giggle. It’s almost as if they have a testing department and reject any that make someone smile. [Horrible thought – imagine being a joke-tester for Christmas Cracker jokes?!]

crackers

Someone somewhere is employed to find these jokes or even write them. Or perhaps now they have a computer that does that for them?

nutcrackers2

Christmas Crackers are a strange phenomenon aren’t they? A roll of paper with two crimps, a small explosive device, a paper hat, a small gift (to which we will return) and a joke. What an unusual combination, especially to celebrate Christmas. We don’t have them for the rest of the year, so why are they exclusively Christmas Crackers? Quick, down to Dragon’s Den with the idea for a company to make Crackers for all occasions…

Oh yes, the gifts. It seems that the only significant variable in a box of Christmas Crackers is the quality of the gift. The cheaper ones have a piece of plastic that has been moulded into a shape that resembles something in everyday life but which is entirely useless and will be thrown away with the rest of the cracker rubbish. The more expensive ones will have something that looks like it might be useful but will break the first time you use it. And the very expensive ones have things that we are sure will be very helpful but are priced out of the reach of most of us. If the gifts are the only variable then they must dictate the price of the crackers.

So here’s another idea to take down to Dragon’s Den (or perhaps combine with the previous one)… make another variable – the quality of the jokes! The cheaper ones will continue to have the ones that make you groan, but the more expensive you go, the funnier the jokes.

However, I want to subvert that idea even before you offer me £100,000 for 10% of my company. I would imagine that those who can least afford crackers deserve the funniest jokes and the best gifts. So my company’s USP* would be that the more expensive the cracker the worse the joke and the less useful the gift – playing on the expectation that crackers must be crummy – and these expensively priced but cheap to produce ones would subsidise the production of wonderful ones in the budget range.

Wouldn’t it be nice at Christmas that the first really are last and the last first?

Be blessed, be a blessing

There was a recent competition to find new, funny up to date cracker jokes. My favourite was “What does the Queen call her Christmas broadcast? The One Show!”

Closely followed by: “How did Mary and Joseph know Jesus was 7lb 6oz when he was born? They had a weigh in a manger.”

*Unique selling point

Happy Mas

Happy Birthday to whom?
Happy Birthday to whom?

Each year at about this time someone complains about ‘political correctness gone mad’ or ‘health and safety gone mad’. It’s usually because of some well-intentioned attempt to avoid causing offence that ends up causing more of a problem. So we have ‘Winterval’ instead of ‘Christmas’ so it’s not religious. We have Mary told to wear a hard hat when riding on the real donkey through the streets.

I try not to get too hot and bothered about these things because I do believe that there are good intentions behind most of these things and those are not usually reported in the hysteria.

This year there is an advert for Christmas that says ‘Christmas starts with Christ’, which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse. We have a poster outside our church with that message, which is a gentle riposte to ‘Winterval’. But I have another suggestion. If we want to de-religiousise Christmas let’s just call it ‘Mas’. The suffix ‘Mas’ means ‘Festival’. So if all we want to do is have a party then let’s just call it ‘Mas’ and be done with it.

However, if we want to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, let’s really go for it – baby in the manger and all – let’s tell people the reason for the season.

This Saturday the local Salvation Army band will be playing carols on our forecourt in the Town Centre. I’ll be there with them, giving out invitations to our Christmas services in the hope that this year some people will add Christ to their mas. You’d be welcome to join us!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The twelve days of Churchmas

chordTo the tune of Twelve Days of Christmas – you can sing through it in reverse order and cover each day individually if you want (and please bear in mind the sentiment behind yesterday’s bloggage: it’s not a grumble and it’s very tongue-in-cheek):

On the Twelfth day of Christmas this was my ministry

Eating twelve more mince pies

Thanking eleven helpers

Ten late arrivals

Nine ‘Hark the Heralds’

Eating eight more mince pies

Preparing seven sermons

Six nativity plays

Five mince pies

Four turkey dinners

Three broken bulbs

Two days off

And a fresh encounter with The Baby

Be blessed, be a blessing