Monthly Archives: December 2013

St Noddy ( a Christmas morning homily)

So here it is merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

 

Wise words from the great theologian Noddy Holder.   But they are true words because they describe what we celebrate this morning.  We have fun because we are full of joy.  And what we celebrate is a new beginning. 

However, like any anniversary celebration, if we don’t inhabit what we celebrate, it goes flat almost immediately it finishes.  If we don’t keep the party going, we fade back into dull lives in need of colour. Perhaps what is best is if we don’t rely just on the past event to cheer us, but what that past event makes possible in our future and makes possible right now. 

God gives us a brand new start at Christmas . Our futures are full of hope and purpose.  Christ makes us new people capable of new things. Positive things. Healing things.  Wholeness creating things. 

The other gifts that God gives us are time, money and ourselves to share with those who need us. He gives us roughly 10 square metres around us where we can make a difference. Don’t worry that you can’t stop the civil war in South Sudan. Look to see what you can do in the regional conflicts that happen around you. See how you can invest yourself locally in your neighbour. Don’t see people as sinners or saints but rather as beloved children of God. Look at them like God does and do what you think he might do with his children rather than what he might do with his enemies. 

What God also gives us is the humility to see that we too may need that healing touch from someone else. To lower our guard so others can minister to us.  To revel in the fact that Jesus does not see us as sinners but rather as followers. He waits on the path when we fall behind. He teaches us the better way to walk the path rather than telling how wrong we are getting the journey. Frankly, most sinners know they are sinners. What they desire to be told is whether there is a better way.

Be a gift this year to others. Use this great feast to fire you up to live like Jesus and shine light in all the darkness you can find. 

So here it is merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

 

(editor’s note: Noddy Holder was the lead singer of Slade and their song “Merry Christmas Everybody” is an inescapable serenade to the Christmas season in Britain)

 

 

Advertisements

Different Day, Same Shit (a midnight communion sermon)

A couple of weeks ago I was striding across the Marketplace late for staff prayers when my head was lifted by the sound of a man shouting across the square to another. They were both in scruffy groups of older men who had, maybe, seen better days. Today wasn’t one of them.

The conversation went a little bit like this:

Man from group one: “All right mate?”
Man from group two: “Different day, Same shit!”

Now work with me here when I say that this exchange was in the minds of all the gospel writers. “Different Day, Same Shit” could easily have been the motto which prompted them to write, though perhaps with a less fatalistic outlook and maybe using a greek word for shit which doesn’t sound so bad.

I say that because 2000 years ago people were saying the same thing across busy Marketplaces. “Different day, same shit” was a description of the life people thought they were stuck with.  The rich get richer, the powerful more powerful and the mass of us exist only to be faceless fodder to generate wealth for others and to do their bidding. The world is full of violence and exclusion and we’re all invited to join in.

The gospel writers knew of this world. The Old Testament prophets knew such a world. And yet, they had hope. Hope that God was coming with a new day. Hope that the status quo was going to be turned upside down. Wild bearded Jewish prophets in the desert tried to paint word pictures about this moment, not knowing when it would come but telling anyone who would listen to look out for it.

The poor, the abused, the addicted, the losers, the afraid, the slaves, the disabled, the old, the forgotten all have a saviour and a new world that welcomes the likes of them. The people walking in darkness have seen a new light. On the shoulders of this saviour rests the foundations of godly community. All of those who follow this King join in a cosmic revolution where the undeservedly rich, the privileged, the corrupt, the war mongers, the abusers will lose their power.

We laugh a nervous laugh because it just might mean having our lives turned upside down too. We notice that we fit the list of the deposed better than we do the list of those being elevated. It might mean fighting battles that look impossible to win. And maybe if we are honest, we’re not quite sure this way of Jesus will really win.

But then God gives us little glimpses.

You would have to have been in a total media blackout to not know that Nelson Mandela died recently. He was not a great administrator or reformer. He didn’t make the economy better, didn’t make people richer. He didn’t wipe away the townships or the racism.

So why all the fuss? Because he did one thing right which was almost miraculous and which you and I in a million years would not expect from a national leader. When he left prison he had a choice: he could follow the world’s rules and make demands, seek revenge, punish the whites for their evil satanic system, threaten violence all day long against a regime that really deserved it.

Or, he could see that there was new way that had to be tried. The only way SA had a future was to forgive, to recognise the evil that had taken place, to name it, and lance the boil of poison. His demand was that as a nation, SA had to do things differently and try different rules or they would be utterly destroyed. He chose the hard path and our jaws dropped. It was a rare isolated moment where someone tried the godly thing and it worked. It’s just a shame no one had the faith to follow through and try some more.

The decision he made was one which we can make in miniature every day. Mandela’s greatness lay in making that crucial choice when it mattered. And the gospels tell us that Jesus has been trying to tell us that since he was born. The crucial act is not the obvious nor the easy one and it is best made by ordinary people in ordinary circumstances.

That is at the heart of the new age that Jesus brings. We give a great gift to others. Love your neighbour as you love yourself and you will find that Marketplace motto gets changed very quickly. You find that little miracles happen all day long. However, we often have to learn that lesson ourselves because there are very few who can tell you that from experience. To paraphrase GK Chesterton: “It’s not that loving our neighbour has been found to be too hard so it was abandoned. It’s because it has looked too hard and therefore has never been tried”.

So here is my challenge to you. If you truly believe that the heart of Christmas is the celebration of God doing something awesome in our midst and making radical transformation possible, then give the gift of yourself in tribute to him giving the gift of himself. Offer yourself as the possible answer to someone else’s’ prayers.

Today is a different day. What kind of day will you help it to be?

(editor’s note: the author’s wife wisely pointed out that while the S word may sound big and clever it would probably require a lot of apologies for the rest of the year and runs the risk of being the one and only time ever that a load of children came to midnight communion so maybe he should use a different word in the pulpit. Wise woman indeed.)

A Really Big Adventure

Once, a friend labelled me a “walking theological reflection”. I think he meant it as a compliment but I’m still not sure. What he was referring to was my habit of taking anything in my ordinary life or something from the news or a photograph and spinning it into some kind theologically based observation. It wasn’t that I was great at it or in need of improvement but rather, it was something I did.

Seventeen years later, I’m still prone to do that. In fact, I was doing it this morning. It was one of those rare Sunday mornings where I could walk into church and I had nothing to do but sit and listen and be ministered to. I sat and reflected as two church members led the service inviting us to explore the perplexing, wearying and surprising nature of hope. Listening to them,  I started to make all sorts of connections.

At the heart of Advent is the waiting for God to come as one of us. He doesn’t arrive as fully fledged saviour but rather as the one who will save, who will be the fulfilment of our hopes and dreams and who will teach us to live the way we were created to live. As I pondered this I started to wonder just how hard that would be for God to  enter our world and be one of us.  Would he magically adapt or would he struggle to get the hang of living like us? Maybe that is why he doesn’t make a significant impact on his community until he is in his thirties (a late starter for  his time). Maybe all those years were spent just getting the hang of being us.

I know some people might be offended by that idea, that somehow it makes God look weak and limited.

We talk about God as being this perfect, adaptable, prepared for every situation entity and yet the bible often tells us of him being surprised. “Why are you hiding?” he asks in the garden. So why shouldn’t taking on flesh be as bewildering as his creation  not following his basic induction day about living in Eden?

As I thought about this, my mind moved to a book I’ve been reading called  Paradise Imperfect: An American Family Moves to the Costa Rican Mountains by Margot Page.  The back of the book says 

Margot and Anthony were ordinary parents. With two jobs and three kids, there was soccer and carpool and too much to do, and a little chronic stress about money. Then one night, following a day that was a regular amount of hectic, Margot had an idea: “I think we should move to Costa Rica.” Seven weeks later, there they were, jobless on top of a mountain, hours from the nearest paved road. This witty, insightful memoir of a family’s struggle to right itself in a leafy new world is about parenting and privilege, loneliness and connection. It’s about what happens when a stressed-out technology professional escapes with her loved ones to an idyllic mountaintop…and finds that even when everything changes, some things remain the same.

While this may appear to be a shameless  plug for a friend’s really good book, it is deeper than that. Margot and her family leave behind every thing that is  familiar and sustaining in order to immerse themselves in a new place and with a renewed purpose. This move turned out to be a costly exercise for all of them. And in my musings I wondered if the incarnation was a costly exercise for God too.

Philippians 2 hints at how this process of leaving everything behind is the core of Jesus’ incarnation and the nature of it. He wasn’t God in disguise. He was God in the flesh and it was different and humbling. We know that Jesus had troubles making himself understood, he struggled with getting his own family on board, he felt lonely and friendless, he was tired and sometimes thwarted. None of this is how it worked where he came from and yet it was the price of being one of us in order to save us.

Margot’s story reminds me of God’s story at Christmas. While we like to look forward to Christmas Day as the arrival day of a powerful and overthrowing king, it might impact us more profoundly  if we saw it as the beginning of God’s own adventure as a person.  That adventure of God will transform all those who associate with it and decide to make that story part of their own. By loving God and drawing his life to the centre of ours, we find that his adventure becomes our adventure.

What is even more amazing is that God in the flesh doesn’t finish his adventure, neatly folds up his man suit and spirits his way back to where he came from. No, Jesus returns to the Father and the Spirit as the crucified, resurrected Christ with nail and spear wounds intact.  God carries his adventure back into his most precious community, the Trinity.

It is trendy at the moment for clergy  to sigh as Christmas carols are sung because they are populist and simplistic ways of telling a much more complex story. But in doing that we miss the truth they tell: God became human so that humans might have the chance to live and thrive in a way they couldn’t manage themselves.

When we see Christmas without that adventure, we are impoverished.