Tag Archives: Christmas

Joy to the world


O Christ, you came to a fouled stable,
And declared that no place was too coarse or too vulgar.

O Christ, you came as a baby,
And declared that no one was too insignificant.

You received shepherds, straight from the fields,
And you declared that all were welcome—there are no outcasts.

You received kings, the ones who came humbly, seeking,
But ignored the proud and the self important.

All heaven declared your glory, but not many noticed.
You don’t force our faith; you work quietly, one heart at a time.

We come to celebrate your birth into our dark world today.
We are vulgar, insignificant, outcast;
We bring our pain, and lay aside our self importance;
We join with the angels and celebrate the baby, who is Christ the Lord.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Meditation & Prayer, Prayers and Meditations

Reclaiming Christmas with Grace


Tinsel town?“Mine! Mine! Mine!” squawked the gulls in Finding Nemo.

“Mine! Mine! Mine!” I hear Christians cry as a marketing frenzy warps the Christmas message; as the god of our consumer society replaces the mystery of the Christ child with the clamour of the cash register, the jangle of canned carols and the lure of the sale.

“Christmas is mine,” we say as we seek to reclaim Christmas and redirect the celebrations from the Santa of the shopping malls to the child of Bethlehem.

The “spirit of Christmas” is spread liberally around, but the mystery of Christmas is lost in the clamour. I can understand the frustration of Christians who denounce it all, give up the fight and choose not to celebrate Christmas at all.

But is that really an option? Can we opt out of the celebration, of this time of remembering? Can we pretend it didn’t happen, as some do? They say 25 December was a pagan celebration anyway, so it’s not Christian to celebrate. But, whatever date we choose, sometime during the year we have to stop and recognise the incredible gift of our incarnate Immanuel–God with us.

All rushed outOthers just want peace and quiet, to be able to celebrate the coming of Jesus in meditation and prayer, without the requisite gift-buying frenzy. Ah, what bliss that would be.

But would we? Would we remember at all, if the rest of the world wasn’t involved? Unless we worship in a church that uses lectionary readings, the great festivals of the church generally pass us by. How many of us celebrate Epiphany, or even the Ascension? And Pentecost? My guess is that we only celebrate Pentecost because it falls on a Sunday.

I know it’s a mad rush, I know the world’s involvement raises expectations and anticipation of an entirely materialistic nature. I know that we are so rushed by the commercialisation of the season, that we have little time to think of the meaning. But on this day, shared with pagans, perhaps, but on this wonderful day, we invite the world to stop, to reflect, to notice Jesus amidst all the tinsel and the jangling and the food. On this day, we say to the world, it is all because of Jesus, because of the most wonderful gift of all. Most of the world won’t hear us, will ignore us, will miss the point. But did rejection ever stop Christians from pointing the way, or from celebrating the life and death and resurrection of Jesus? Did rejection and misunderstanding stop Jesus?

As someone put it:
“Nations have their red-letter days, their carnivals and festivals, but once in the year and only once, the whole world stands still to celebrate the advent of a life. Only Jesus of Nazareth claims this world-wide, undying remembrance. You cannot cut Christmas out of the Calendar, nor out of the heart of the world.” Anonymous(from CrossQuotes.org)

Accepting the full meaning of Christmas, beyond the tinsel and the carols, would mean a commitment that even we find difficult to give. Can we wonder that the world would rather trivialise this event than celebrate it.

Christmas CarolsSo let’s sing our Christmas carols, and let the world join in. Let’s worship together with those who never come to church at any other time. Let them have our seats and get the words wrong, and eat our mince pies, and even go away unchanged. Because grace is the gift that was given at Christmas, not “peace on earth.” The peace the angels sang about will come when we learn to share the grace we have received.

10 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Grace and Law

Easter celebration, a matter of life and death


Easter

Easter (Photo credit: 427)

We went to the gym last weekend (Easter Saturday morning); I hope everyone is impressed.  Oh alright, to be brutally honest, after swiping our cards and going inside, we sat down at the coffee shop to enjoy a healthy breakfast.  What weights?  What treadmill?

While enjoying the fare we heard the folk at the next table talking about religion, and bits of their conversation drifted over to us.  “You know what they say,” one of them joked.  “Jesus saves, but Moses headed it in on the rebound.”  (I wondered whether it would become more profound, or was that it?)

“Religion’s a good thing I suppose,” said one. “Especially for those who are dying; it helps people get ready.”  (Well, it wasn’t much, but it was better than the joke.)

“Yes, that’s true,” another one added.  “But really, I don’t believe all this Christianity. I mean, Christ wasn’t really born on 25 December. That was just a pagan festival. The people who invented Christianity decided to use it because it would get more people involved.” (That’s what he said: “Invented”.)

“Ja,” another one agreed. “Easter too, with those Easter eggs.  It’s all part of a fertility cult that the Christians have taken over.  It’s not Christian.”

On the same day a man was quoted in a vox pop conducted by The Witness.  “I do not celebrate Easter, neither do I associate myself with anything that has to do with this holiday. I’m a Christian and don’t believe that it has anything to with Christ.” 

Well, however cynical it all sounds, all of them have got it right; but they have also, sadly, got it spectacularly wrong.  Of course we don’t know when Jesus was born; we could use any day of the year.  It’s not the day that matters, or what other people do with it; it’s what we do with it.  Whether it’s on that day or another, we celebrate with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and to earth peace and goodwill to all humanity.”  Immanuel, God with us.  That’s something to sing about. That’s something to be excited about.

There are those touched by Christianity who refuse to celebrate Christmas.  For some it’s a theological rejection of the humanity of Jesus, but that’s a topic for a different time.  Others refuse to celebrate Christmas and Easter because they have been commercialised.  But that means they have thrown out the Babe of Bethlehem with the bathwater of commercialisation.  How sad to allow the world to dictate what we will hold on to and what we will discard. If the world misinterprets or misappropriates part of our faith, must we jettison it?  In that case, instead of confidently proclaiming our faith, we are constantly looking over our shoulders, and we end up with a cut-and-paste set of beliefs pretty meaningless to everyone, including ourselves. 

I have absolutely no theological or religious reason for eating hot cross buns.  I eat them because I like the taste, and I love the tradition of eating them after service on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday morning just after a sunrise service.  On the other hand I don’t eat Easter eggs as a rule.  But again there is no theological reason.  I simply like chocolate too much to spend money on a hollow shell made from poor-quality chocolate.  Of course, if you insist on buying me a Lindt bunny (or reindeer) you will find me most gracious and appreciative.

But do Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, or a white-haired old man in a red coat, define our faith?  Are they even peripheral to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? Of course not.  Yes, the commercial word has muscled in; that’s what it does.  But that’s got nothing to do with us and our faith, or with how we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, or with how we share the Good News with the world.

What happened that first Christmas and that first Holy Week goes way beyond such trifles.  And it is far greater than our celebration of it in any form.  I also have news for my neighbours at the gym: it goes way beyond preparing us for death.  It is not about death, although a death is at the heart of it, but about life.  God has always participated in history not to prepare us for death but to prepare us for life—life in all its fullness.

When we as Christians bicker about Halaal stickers on “our” hot cross buns, or when they should be eaten, or whether people of other faiths should be allowed to have Christmas Day off work, we cheapen our faith, and we give the impression to a cynical world that faith is trivial and has no real meaning for life.

When we spend more time quarrelling about the “right” way to worship than we do reaching out to a broken world, when we spend our time pointing out the faults and shortcomings of others, criticising and condemning instead of encouraging, we engage in activities that lead to death rather than life.

In our worship and celebration, in our ceremonies and traditions, let us never forget that it’s about life not death, and that the focus is on God and not on our limited understanding of him.  Let’s put aside those things that hinder our relationship with God or our relationships with others, or that make it difficult for others to relate to God.  If they are too precious to put aside then let us at least ensure that in the way we live and the way we celebrate we keep the focus on Jesus, and not on the mere elements of our celebration.

1 Comment

Filed under Christmas, Easter, Through the Year

2012: A new journey


New Year’s Day is a pretty arbitrary date for celebrations; so arbitrary that Samoa decided to bring it forward by 24 hours.  But it has huge symbolic meaning.  “Out with the old and in with the new” is the motto for a great amount of activity including planning, goal setting, resolution making, much of which is equally symbolic of course and does not amount to much more than words on a page.

For Christians, Christmas is a more obvious time for new beginnings.  The birth of the Christ child marked a new beginning for the human race and for our relationship with God and with his creation.  On the other hand, Easter and the resurrection of Jesus marks the end of what Christmas began, the earthly ministry of Jesus.  It marks the beginning of new possibilities through forgiveness and reconciliation with God and with one another, while Pentecost marks the birth of the church through the coming of the Spirit.

Each of these is a good opportunity for Christians to take stock, plan, and set goals.  How much more meaningful for our plans to be linked with God’s activity and to be formulated through the inspiration of the Spirit of God, rather than via a man-made calendar?

Perhaps we’re a bit nervous of God being too closely involved in our plans and resolutions.  New Year resolutions are traditionally loose affairs: I’ll do my best but don’t anyone hold me to them.  Resurrection resolutions or Pentecostal planning have a more serious ring to them.  “I did my best” just won’t do anymore.

Whatever our preference we need an opportunity (and not just once a year for that matter) to take stock of where we have come from and where we are likely to end up if we continue as we are.  Is there somewhere else or something else we would like to aim towards?  If we are content to allow our future and our place in the world to be determined by others or by outside forces, there is of course no need for such introspection.  But don’t tell anyone because such lethargy in a world obsessed with Success, with Becoming, and with finding one’s Purpose is rather scandalous (perhaps more of that in another blog).  For now, the New Year is a good opportunity to ask questions about one’s journey through life and its spiritual, emotional, social, and physical aspects.  It invites us to lift our eyes and see a little further than the next footstep; to ask for God’s mercy and to receive his guidance for the journey that lies ahead.

God bless you whatever your journey holds.

THANK YOU

Thank you too for sharing my journey this past year, especially those of you who have signed up to receive my ramblings each time I post. It’s such a privilege to have you here and I am grateful for your presence; you inspire me to keep writing, and to write meaningfully. If you care to visit, do please leave a comment to give me an idea of what works for you and what doesn’t.

Blessings

1 Comment

Filed under New Year

Christmas Morning


Our service on Christmas morning was an exquisite experience.  To be part of such a wonderful family of people gathered in joy and celebration, to worship, to renew friendships, and to share in the awe of Christmas, was a delight.

I was reminded of how Eugene Peterson interprets Psalm 16:3 in The Message:

“And these God-chosen lives all around–what splendid friends they make”

Splendid friends indeed.

Our new minister began her journey with us on Christmas Day.  Ministers in the Methodist Church of Southern African move to new appointments in December each year (our summer), and their first service is Christmas Day; pretty scary I’d think!  But I hope and pray that the vibe we experienced would have given her a real sense of belonging to this new community of ‘splendid friends’.

2 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Community, Through the Year

A Child is Born


Isaiah 9:2-7 (The Message)

(2)  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows– light! sunbursts of light!

(3)  You repopulated the nation, you expanded its joy. Oh, they’re so glad in your presence! Festival joy! The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

(4)  The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants– all their whips and cudgels and curses– Is gone, done away with, a deliverance as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian.

(5)  The boots of all those invading troops, along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood, Will be piled in a heap and burned, a fire that will burn for days!

(6)  For a child has been born–for us! the gift of a son–for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness.

(7)  His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. He’ll rule from the historic David throne over that promised kingdom. He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing and keep it going With fair dealing and right living, beginning now and lasting always. The zeal of GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Christmas, Through the Year