Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Mystery of Christmas

Every year I get out my ten or so Advent and Christmas CDs and perhaps play them a little too much!  One has the title: The Mystery of Christmas.

We've heard the story so often, watched a lifetime of nativity plays and perhaps sing our carols with a familiarity they don't deserve (many of them have highly complex points of theology!) - that we loose sight of just what a mystery Christmas is.  In its day it confounded the expectations of the temple authorities and the wise men from the east.  It's been doing it ever since!

I suppose that is why I told a 'monologue' about Mary at last Sunday morning's service rather than preach a sermon.  I can't really fathom out much of her story but somehow in simply retelling it we sense its profundity, even its relevance for us today.

'Worship' rather than 'explanation' is, I think, a more appropriate response to Christmas - and probably much else in the Christian narrative!

Like you, I suspect, we receive one or two 'round robbin' letters in with the cards each day now  One arrived this morning from our Baptist Regional Minister - he finished it with a prayer that went like this:

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
you came.

You crept in beside us.

And no-one knew,
only the few
who dared to believe
that God might do something different.

Next week I hope you have a happy and wonderfully 'mysterious' Christmas!  The blog returns in a fortnight's time.

Ian


Friday, 12 December 2014

But his angels here are human...

I've just returned from my first (but probably not my last!) Christmas meal of the season - at our Men's Luncheon Club.  As is the case every December we had a splendid meal followed by an AGM - at which the Minister gives a Christmas message - so today I felt rather like the Queen at 3pm on 25th December!

I gave the briefest of talks about angels.  They pop up regularly in the story we are about to celebrate. Gabriel is busy with 'breaking news' for both Zechariah and Mary and the shepherds hear the news of the nativity first from a solitary angel who is then joined later by a 'host'.

Angels, as described by the biblical writers, are 'God's messengers' and I love the way Gabriel describes himself to John the Baptist's father: 'I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news...'  Isn't that wonderful and couldn't it be a sort of description for every Christian.  We stand in God's presence - whether that's public worship or private prayer - and then we 'go' - we go out to share something of God's love, light and message in our everyday lives.

One of my very favourite Advent hymns is Henry Burton's There's a light upon the mountains and it has this utterly splendid and meaningful line:
'but his angels here are human,
not the shining hosts above,
for the drum beats of his army
are the heart-beats of our love.'
I just adore that sentiment and want this hymns at my funeral!  I love the lines because they 'ground' our faith and invite us all to participate in God's life in the here and now.

As I prepared tonight's supper the kitchen radio was on and I heard an interview on Radio Four with a British nurse who has volunteered to go out to Africa this Christmas and serve with an Ebola Task Force.  She was asked what she had packed and without making a big deal of it she casually mentioned she had included her bible.  Aah - I thought - I think I recognise where her motivation might be coming from.  She was asked if she had time to read it in her new surroundings -'every day' she replied, 'for fifteen minutes'.  I was so thrilled to hear this interview of a young British nurse speaking of her faith, speaking of her love for her fellow human beings and how she could combine the two.

Something verging on the 'angelic' in all of that - and my heart was glad as I cooked the sausages!

All good wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The value of small groups

On Tuesday we held our annual party and presentation evening for the small cells of our church community - a programme we call 'Life and Faith Groups'.  It's the one opportunity for these diverse groups to come together over a meal and share some of the activities which have characterised their life over the last twelve months.  I remembered half way through how inspired I'd been at this gathering last year and it was the same again on Tuesday.

We have three study groups - one seems to take a sideways look at the Lectionary readings and often expresses that discovery through craft work, another is led by our Associate Minister and amongst other techniques has studied various passages this year looking at say a dozen interpretations from commentators and the placed them in order of 'preference or relevance', and the other group has majored during one term looking at various biblical women and in another focusing on biblical men.

The three remaining groups are:  our 'Hands Together' group - knitting baby outfits for various charities, our Book Discussion Group, drawing together about a dozen people every other month to discuss a book and our 'Bring and Share Prayer Group' which meets every Friday either for led or silent prayer.

Tuesday was a wonderful evening when, after a shared meal, we listened to each group bring a presentation about its work and life together.  As I listened to these it was obvious that this side of church brings fellowship and a mutual sense of pilgrimage to participants.

Most of the groups take a break over Christmas and re-form in the New Year for what I hope and pray will be another stimulating year of fellowship and study.

Best wishes,
Ian

Speaking of Sin

Tomorrow I’m attending a Ministers’ Book Discussion Group in Luton. We meet up three or four times a year over a packed lunch to discuss a...