Silent Night, Holy Night

25 12 2012

Six o’clock in the morning and the house is silent.  The potential of the day is just lurking, waiting to come alive. It is Christmas morning. No doubt in many homes with young children, parents have been forced into wakefulness already.  For us it is yet to come. My mind has already wandered over the preparation of the potatoes, the parsnips, the brussel spouts and much more. And it has put those thoughts aside for those things, by necessity will push their way to the forefront later on. Now is a time for reflection. Yes, the presents have been wrapped, the food has been bought in and we can do no more, so now relax, sit back for a few minutes and ponder on the wonder of this day.

The Christmas accounts of the Gospel are amazing. It is no wonder that some are trying to push them off Christmas cards, no wonder they try to challenge this day saying silly things like, “Well it was a pagan festival that you Christians hijacked.”  Smart move whoever did it. Now we’ve anchored this day to act as a particular day of remembrance. So it could have been January 10th, May 15th July 6th, who cares! It’s just a day when we remember something incredible – a baby cried (almost certainly) and God was suddenly out in this world in human form.

We can’t cope with that really, the thought of a baby expressing God, or even later on of a grown man being God while still man. My wife and I have been reminded recently of the illustration of the meal offering in Leviticus where flour and oil mingle together to form one material – you cannot distinguish between the two but they are still two materials blended together. Thus God clothed in humanity revealed himself to us.

I have sometimes pondered on why He didn’t just occupy a grown human body but that would have required one of two things. Either he would have to invade the will of an adult human being (and God never invades our free will) or He would have had to create a unique human figure at the age of say thirty (but God doesn’t do magic and anyway such a being would not have thirty years of human experience  and it seems that God made the most of this unique time in HIS experience by entering into so much of what we experience.)

So often when we say, “But Lord, you don’t understand what I feel, what I’m going through,” He replies, “But I do, I’ve been there!”

But there’s an even more mind-blowing thought and it is that which we see particular in John’s Gospel where Jesus speaks about having come down from heaven where he had existed before.  This baby born on whatever day it was, was containing the incredible third person of the trinity, the Son of God, who has always existed as one expression of those three expressions of that one God. We’ll never understand it this side of death, but that unique expression of God that we call ‘the Son’ had always been, and now was in human form.

I recently heard Christians testifying at a Christmas service and was saddened that they could only focus on Jesus coming to die. As critically important and real as that was, they missed the sheer wonder of God putting Himself in human form so that He could reveal His character to us through this human being. How do we know we have a loving and good God? Look at Jesus. Read the Gospels with an open heart and see the wonder of this ‘man’ and marvel. Every life he touched, he touched with love and goodness. He healed thousands, he even raised the dead and all he did was an expression of God’s goodness and love and, yes, eventually he died on a Cross to take the punishment that was due us for our sins.  Those of us who have been Christians a long time tend to lose the wonder of this person who ministered in Israel for three years some two thousand years ago.  Pause afresh and reflect and wonder.

I like the nativity stories because they are so blatantly supernatural – angels turning up all over the place, dreams given to guide, and a supernatural man-less  conception. Awesome! I recently heard someone trying to explain what the ‘star’ was that guided the wise men to Bethlehem, and was left thinking, “Well I suppose that’s what it might have been – but it might have been something else, but who cares – somehow God managed to guide these astronomers cum astrologers to Bethlehem where He used them to be the supplies of the finances that the young family needed.”  Why is it that we feel we have to explain every detail of HOW it all happened. Sorry, I can’t explain virgin birth, I can’t explain angels and lots more, but if God says this is what is, then OK. There is sufficient that I do understand, that I’m happy to rest in the bits that I don’t understand.

It’s like Christmas is a time (whenever it actually was) where God says, “Here you are. Here are my gifts to you – a massive pile of evidence for you to unwrap and think about, to help you believe, and when you come to the bits that you can’t understand, don’t worry, I do!”

A baby in a manger, angels, shepherds, wise men. It’s just the start of the story and there’s nothing else like it in all of history, in all of the world. So ponder on it, think about it, marvel over it and don’t let the opening of presents or preparing food  or whatever other practical things force them on you this day, detract from the wonder of it. Whatever else you do, stop and say thank you.





Nativity – truth and fiction

24 12 2010

Nativity – truth and fiction

When I woke this morning I found last night’s last episode of the BBC’s four part series, The Nativity, still in my mind. It was memorable and it was different and we enjoyed it. It had more of a sense of reality about it than any other film we’ve ever seen about the events of Christmas two thousand years ago.

What were the good things about it? Well, as I’ve said the sense of reality, the feeling that this is how life might have been then – but the truth is that it may have been very different because it is difficult to judge from two thousand years distance. But it communicated well. What was also good was the fact that they didn’t fudge the central issue – Mary was a virgin and still conceived as a result of a divine encounter. What was also good was the supposition that the ‘star’ was actually three planets coming into alignment – just at the moment of Jesus’ birth. Although speculation, it certainly added to the sense that this was a cosmic event, and that sense of divine destiny was heightened by the sound of machinery like massive cogs moving the planets into place just for this supreme moment.  What was also excellent was the genuine worship brought by the wise men. What was intriguing was the ongoing saga in the background of a young man who was a shepherd suffering under the harsh regime of Herod, which eventually brought him to the stable where he saw the child and – we presume – was released from all his anger – a little too much unsaid at that point.

But then I felt myself feeling a little sad for the BBC because having done such a good job on so much of it, they altered it to suit their filming whims. The setting of Mary & Joseph’s betrothal was excellent but thereafter Joseph got the rough end of the plot which diverted from the Biblical text considerably.

For instance, to start with, Matthew tells us that, Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Mt 1:19) In the filming Mary’s ‘disgrace’ is a major issue and so it was not being kept under wraps.  Next in the text we find that shortly afterwards in a dream he gets the message from heaven – which he believes and “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Mt 1:24) In the film he rejects her story throughout and holds her at a distance until the birth in the stable. Not so! The text indicates they lived under one roof as husband and wife (without sexual relations) for at least five or six months (If Joseph had wanted to hide her disgrace she would have told him within the first two months of her pregnancy, the dream followed shortly afterwards and he took her home to appear as husband and wife before she really started really showing she was pregnant. One would assume that a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would take less that two weeks and so they didn’t start off until half way through her last month.)

The wise men skirting round Jerusalem also moves somewhat from the text. Again Matthew tells us they boldly (or naively) arrive in Jerusalem and start asking around. Herod eventually calls them in and gets details from them before sending them off again.

The timing of the wise men according to the text, and most interpreters understanding of it, was also astray. It was nice that they turn up just behind the shepherds but the text suggests it was different from that. Intriguingly the text says “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” (Mt 2:11)  What is intriguing about this is the reference to “the house” and the absence of any reference to Joseph. When you put this story together with the fact that Herod later ordered the death of baby boys under the age of two (Mt 2:16), it suggests that some time had passed before Herod acted and the fact that the little family escaped south to Egypt (and not north away from Nazareth) suggests they were still living in Bethlehem and to do that Joseph would have had to find work and would explain his absence from the home (which they presumably borrowed or rented) doing work for someone as a carpenter in their home. Everything points to the wise men coming months later to Bethlehem to this little family that appears settled there for the moment at least. But what’s the truth among film-makers; the story is the important thing!

So, an enjoyable story opening up new thoughts about the reality of it all, but nevertheless short on the truth as presented by the Gospels. But you can’t ask for everything can you? Or can you?





A Baby?

23 12 2008

A Robin sat, perched on a branch overseeing the garden, a blackbird scuffed among the leaves and two pigeons sat on a nearby aerial, cooing at each other. It’s almost Christmas Day and they haven’t a clue! On Christmas Day they’ll still be here in the garden completely unaware that we humans – well a few of us anyway – are celebrating the most incredible event in human history.

But then I wonder if we are better than they? Do we really comprehend the wonder of the birth of this baby some two thousand years ago?  Do we really understand what it means that this was God in human form? If He had appeared in some massive ghostly cloud,  hundreds of miles high, it might have scared the life out of us, but at least we’d have had an idea of what it was all about – an incredibly powerful God making Himself known.

But instead what did He do? Came as a baby! A baby! How can a baby possibly be God? How can a baby represent the all-powerful, all knowing, all-wise, ever present God that the Bible speaks about?  Perhaps if we think of Him for a moment as light, perhaps we might grasp 1% of what was happening. In the coming of the baby all we have is a pin-prick of light in the darkness, hardly recognisable. By the time he is grown and out and about in the countryside, speaking, teaching, healing and transforming people, it is like a pencil light shining into the darkness. One day, when we get to heaven, it will be like bright day and He is the source of all that brightness.  But now it’s a baby and how can a pin-prick of light impact and transform the world?

The baby won’t but what he is will, when he is really seen for who he is. But for now, it leaves questions for so many. As I have pondered this over the years, I have almost anguished for those who just deride and can’t be bothered to think about what this pin-prick and then this pencil-shaft of light was about. It’s understandable that people don’t see, and don’t understand, because it does take a seeking heart to see and to understand.

And therein is a truth that is difficult to take in, that perhaps the very reason that God came in this form was to reveal US as we really are. I am challenged by the apostle Paul’s words about those who,seek glory, honour and immortality contrasting such people with those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil.” (Rom 2:7&8)  Here is a truth. There are people who really desire after good, who desire after truth and who desire to know if there is something more than this ‘three score years and ten’ life on this earth. There is a quality about these people that makes them stand out and it seems that perhaps God came in the way He did, so that only such people would realise who He was and would reveal, in their responses to Him, who they were.

There are those who strive to be good for a variety of reasons. Some to appease a deep down guilt, some to prove that they are better than others, and then there are those who Paul had in mind who did good because they were certain that there was more to this life than meets the eye, and they wanted somehow, in some way, perhaps through their goodness, to reach through all the artificiality of this life and touch the One who is real.

Such people, when they hear about the ‘Christmas story’ pause and wonder, but they are not satisfied, so they read and read and seek and seek and in seeking, they find the One, and eventually realise that through this One they indeed receive glory, honour and immortality. In such a way they are truly better off than the birds in my garden who have no knowledge of this wonder. Don’t just ‘glance’ at the Christmas story; sit down and take it in, ponder it, wonder about it, and rejoice in the incredible One you see there.





Christmas Unreality

19 12 2008

I think the more I have come to appreciate the Christmas story, the more I have not appreciated the trappings that the modern world affixes to Christmas. In fact, increasingly the modern Western world doesn’t really know how to handle Christmas.  I have seen a number of articles this year bemoaning the political correctness, worst it seems on the west coast of America, where everyone has become so oversensitive that we hardly dare mention the very word, Christmas. What a sad bunch!

The other day I was brought to tears over Christmas. I have the privilege of meeting each week with a group of about seven or eight women from a variety of backgrounds, most of whom are young Christians, to help build their faith. This last week I invited them to write their own reflections about Christmas and then to read them out. When it came to it, they asked me to read them out, and it was then that tears flowed. Here are a couple of extracts:

As the end of the year is approaching, faster than I would like, I find myself feeling anxious, worried and lonely about various things. I have a feeling of apprehension about the Christmas morning, with my daughter opening presents, a meal for two, for which I’ve yet to find the money, to buy, cook and clear away all by myself. Yet when I think about it more deeply, which I tend not to do because it’s easier not to, I realise that it boils down to loneliness.  It’s supposed to be a family time when people meet and greet – so why do I feel dread when I think of that day?  One reason is that although it will be me and my daughter, I will still feel alone – just her and me – lonely. But as I am writing this I am feeling the Lord saying to me, “You are not alone – you have me,” and as long as I remember that leading up to, during and after, then maybe I won’t feel so alone. After all, it is because of this day that I have a friend that I can always rely upon, any time, anywhere!

……………………………….

Christmas has always been a family time. As a child it was exciting. Once I had my own children, Christmas became special again. I could indulge again in all the wonder and make-believe, but it was all make-believe. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy bits but the rest of it, as a pre-Christian adult, has just been hiding the junk under a bit of tinsel. Horrible things have happened at Christmas time: my mum dying and my marriage breaking up. The glittering lights seemed to expose all the horrible stuff and give a real yearning for the make-believe to become real. When I think back it was usually a time of wishes and hopes followed by disappointment. Since becoming a Christian, there’s still a real yearning to get Christmas right for me, trying to drop the trappings and find the right way to celebrate the birth of our Lord. One day I will figure out the right way for me to celebrate Christmas. Whatever bad things have happened in the past, and whatever may happen in the future, I have hope, the best Christmas present ever, that was given to us all on that first Christmas when Jesus as born.

……………………………….

I don’t know how those two strike you but, as I said, I was moved to tears, tears for their honesty, tears for their pain, and tears over what we have done to Christmas.

The reason the politically correct world doesn’t like Christmas is because it challenges the lie  that today’s clueless world makes, that all religions are the same. Christmas declares the New Testament’s assertion that at some time, some two thousand years ago, a whole lot of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by the coming of God to the earth in the form of a tiny baby (I’ll write another blog on that!).  Nowhere else in all history is this claim made and it is this which challenges and upsets the unbelieving, materialistic, humanistic world of today.  It may be beyond our understanding but the evidence (when you genuinely examine it) is compelling.

Both the two girls who I quoted above have been through tough times, abandoned with their children. It’s a familiar tale and it may be that you are so used to it that you remain unmoved. If that is so, that is very sad. Christmas is a time of mixed emotions; it’s a time when emotions are brought out. Can we add to them compassion and care and acceptance, characteristics of the one that the Christmas babe became? Dare we let our emotions be stirred to create action, this Christmas, that means the world is changed just a bit for the good? Dare we take time to sit down and examine the evidence and be moved? It could become a different Christmas.