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.

In your Space

13 09 2008

I have had, this week, running around in the back of my mind, the picture of Jesus getting into Simon Peter’s boat (you find it in Luke 5), and the phrase ‘invading your space’ keeps coming round. I remember thinking about private space – that bit of space in front of us, where, if people invade it, we feel uncomfortable.  I once heard a tourist guide in Canada saying that the private space for a grizzly bear was about 160 feet.  I don’t know whether that is true, or even if it should have been yards, but we understood the concept –  keep out of his private space otherwise he will get upset!  We don’t like people being in our private space; it makes us edgy. Perhaps that is why when Jesus does it today, we’re hardly aware of it.

But back to Peter. He’s in his boat after a fruitless night’s fishing, washing out his nets, presumably getting rid of weed and bits of flotsam, when along walks Jesus and climbs into his boat. He is now in Peter’s private space and Peter must be wondering, hullo, what is happening here? Then Jesus asks him to push out a bit from the shore so Jesus can use his boat as a  preaching platform. Now John’s Gospel tells us that Peter had met Jesus before (see John 1) so Peter knows something of this man and is intrigued or, perhaps, just hasn’t got the courage to say no.  At the end of his teaching Jesus tells Peter to throw his nets out for a catch. Now Peter is a fisherman and fishermen know the waters and Peter knows that last night there were no fish and now there are still no fish, but something about this man intrigues him or, perhaps, he hasn’t got the courage to say no. Whatever it is, he throws the net over and to his horror finds it full of fish. He is scared silly!

Now that incident has been going round in my mind this week. It seems it is analogous to what happens in life.  We are minding our own business and then suddenly Jesus comes along and invades our space – but we’re not aware that he’s there, because today he doesn’t have a single human body; he comes by His Holy Spirit.  So does it matter that he’s ‘there’?  Well yes, because he doesn’t remain silent; he says stuff.  Now because we’re not expecting this we don’t recognise what is happening.  We simply find questions rising in our mind, or start feeling discontented with our life.  So  many Christians will testify that this is what started happening. They didn’t realise it at the time but this was Jesus coming near at the time when he saw we were ready, and he invaded our private space and then got in our face.  We weren’t aware of what was happening but interest rose in us, questions rose in us, disquiet rose in us, self-awareness arose in us, and that self awareness realised we had a problem.  What was happening?  To use a modern phrase, Jesus was messing with our mind.  Sometimes we refer to it as being convicted by the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and it’s him at work, drawing us towards God.

So could it be that you had Jesus invading your space recently and didn’t realise it. You’re not a Christian but you’ve found yourself recently questioning the meaning of your life.  It’s all right, it’s just Jesus invading your space, seeking to bring you to a place of understanding and commitment. Fight it if you like, but you’ll be fighting the best thing that can ever happen to you.

Maybe you’re a Christian already and you thought this only happened at the beginning of the Christian life. Think again. He comes again and again to invade our space when he wants to get our attention afresh. Maybe it’s to start us off on a new phase of life, maybe it’s just to bring you fresh revelation, but he does it all the time. Every step forward we make in faith is because he first came and ‘invaded our space’, so take note of it, and go with it. You could be about to step out on the next big step of this adventure called faith. Have fun.