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.





Christmas, a time for humility

17 12 2008

I have just had an off-the-cuff conversation with someone that got on to the subject of ‘humility’. It’s a good time of the year to ponder humility in the light of the coming of the Lord and Saviour of the world in such humble circumstances that we remember at Christmas.

I did a quick Google search and found the following refrains from carols or poems:

“It was a humble birth, But a King was born that day.”

and

“Listen! From a humble manger, Comes the call”

and

“Go, shepherds, where the Infant lies, And see his humble throne;”

My dictionary defines ‘humble’ as:

“having, showing, low estimate of one’s own importance; of lowly condition, of modest pretensions.”

Strangely the Bible stories of Jesus coming as a baby don’t use the word humble. Mary singing prophecy declared of God, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” i.e. herself (Lk 1:48). Jesus was later to teach, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29) and of course the New Testament speaks a number of times about the need to be humble (Eph 4:2, Jas 4:6,10, 1 Pet 3:8, 5;5,6)

So what does it mean to be humble? What is humility?

Well clearly in the three quotes from carols or hymns above, ‘humble’ is equated with ‘lowly’ (‘basic, modest, unpretending’ my dictionary says!)

The carols are right.

Yes, Jesus birth was a pretty lowly thing, being born in a stable (we assume this from the ‘manger’ reference though there is NO reference to a stable!) or maybe in the open air, presumably with no midwife in attendance. Not what most modern mothers-to-be would desire!

References to the manger as a ‘humble throne’? Well the point is well made that this baby is in fact a king above all kings but he appears in a way and a form as lowly as it is possible to be.

Perhaps this is one of the most staggering things about the Christmas story, the lowliness of his arrival. If it was today we might be referring to a single mother having her child in the back of an abandoned car on some waste ground. That’s about the level of it.

The apostle Paul took all this on board when he taught, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8) It is the sense of humility that is conveyed there, although the word is not used until it comes to his submitting himself to his Father’s will to go to the Cross. Obedience is always an act of humility, because it is lowering ourselves in submission to God.

But I’d like to add a different definition: “Humility is having a right assessment of yourself.”

A humble person knows who they are.

A humble person knows that any good they have comes as a gift from God.

A humble person knows that left to themselves they are self-centred and not nice!

A humble person realises that they have no grounds to look down on others.

A humble person looks out for others, realising we are all the same.

A humble person relies on God.

Again the apostle Paul taught, Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3)

‘Sober judgement’ sounds a bit heavy but it just means, make a cool, calm, wise and honest assessment of yourself, what you are really like – both good points as well as bad.

When we approach life like this we’ll be walking in Jesus’ footsteps – in honesty. When we are honest we realise that left to our own we are not nice, but with God’s transforming power we can become His blessing to this world.

That’s the eventual outworking of the Christmas story, that this tiny baby grew up and without fanfare or trumpets brought the love of God wonderfully to Israel for three years. Then he was crucified for being good, but God raised him from the dead and he subsequently returned to heaven from where he came originally. This became the door to God for all who realised what they were like, a door of belief that opened the way for Him to come and transform their lives to bring goodness to His world.

There’s never been anything like it in all history. It’s what marks Christianity out from all other world religions or philosophies and it’s this which brings such hostility, for light shows up darkness and darkness doesn’t like it. Yet, those of us who are Christians have no grounds to boast; humility is the name of the game all the way to heaven.

Again the apostle Paul emphasised the truth – it’s all of God! God…made us alive … God raised us up …it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:4-8) This is true humility, the recognition that we are, as Christians, works of God. All we were able to do was surrender and He did the rest.

So, as you approach this Christmas, imagine the manger with that little baby, and imagine yourself kneeing in submission beside it. This is humility.