Thursday, 14 December 2017

O Magnum Mysterium - and no, it's not an ice-cream!

An old hymn we sometimes sing in church has the line, ‘tis mystery all…’  I wonder if that really describes faith?

For me, much of Christianity has a sense of cohesion which I find inspiring.  I think it makes sense to have a faith in which ‘love’ is central, a love that moulds and sustains us.  It’s almost creedal to say that love is at the centre of:
                              every relationship
                              every community
                              every positive act
                                                            and surely one of the most foundational statements we have in our scriptures is the verse that proclaims with a simplicity that disguises its profundity: ‘God is love’.

And yet I would also want to willingly acknowledge and embrace that ‘mystery’ can both deepen our faith and free us from the need to have a full sheet of water tight answers to all those questions we’ve been asking since we were six.

Don’t get me wrong.  At AFC we are quite a ‘questioning’ church.  We like digging deep in our attempt to make an honest critique of life and faith.

Yet when it comes to Christmas I’ll happily settle for mystery.

The idea that God shared our life in Jesus, born at Bethlehem is as mind-blowing as it is inspirational.

At the centre of Christianity is an idea beyond explanation: that God comes alongside us.  Not a far away God, but one closer than our breathing.

Our Jewish cousins have a word for it: ‘Immanuel’ – meaning ‘God with us’.

That love of God is found in the new life of a baby, the faithful care of parents and the intuitive worship of the shepherds.

God comes close.

If Easter is the Christian festival of life, then Christmas is surely our festival of love.

One of the simplest carols puts it this way: ‘Love came down at Christmas…’

Over these coming days as Advent erupts into the joy of Christmas may God come close to you.  Maybe in the smile of a child, the flicker of a candle or even in the struggles that simply don’t go away.  Struggles which we can bear because of the love and support that surrounds us.

A verse from the Latin Mass for Christmas Day begins: ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ – ‘O Great Mystery’.

There is an implicit mystery to Christmas as there is to Love.  Yet all our lives are the better for it.

Better for the mystery which unfolded that night in Bethlehem when ’Love came down...'.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Avoiding Advent Adverts

As I was driving to Cambridge to meet up with a friend yesterday, I tuned in to Classic FM.  I couldn’t help but notice how prescriptive the adverts felt in between the music.  I was told that Raymond Brigg’s Snowman was an essential part of Christmas (so why not go out and buy a copy!!), and that shopping at Morrisons would make it a good Christmas!

Does anyone believe adverts anymore?!

So, as I drove up the M11 I made a decision that, essential or not, I can do without the Snowman this year, and just because it’s Christmas I won’t abandon our regular supermarket retailer in favour of one promising ‘good’ seasonal cheer.

It strikes me we all have choices to make at this time of year.  We don’t have to become a victim to other people’s agendas.

We even make choices about the story at the centre of this season.  We don’t have to take it all as historical fact, instead we can see the enduring value of ‘myth’ at its very centre.  We can choose not to get over concerned by the details but simply rejoice in the concept of Immanuel, an ‘alongside’ God, and just how mind-blowing that thought always is.  We can choose to balance a family celebration alongside a season of prayerful worship whilst seeing value in both.

And perhaps most of all we can choose to be open to the surprises of The Spirit and the joys of Advent without having too much of a prescribed plan; because living in the moment and valuing it is, I suspect, never more important than it is in December.

Actually I love the Snowman story and if Morrisons were local I’d happily shop there.  But I don’t believe either is essential to Christmas and that neither will inevitably make it good!

I make the choice to look elsewhere for a deeper meaning to the season.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Advent Blogs by the Baptist Union Retreat Group

During Advent the Baptist Union Retreat Group (BURG) are posting weekly Blog Reflections - they can be found at

O Magnum Mysterium - and no, it's not an ice-cream!

An old hymn we sometimes sing in church has the line, ‘tis mystery all…’  I wonder if that really describes faith? For me, much of Chris...