The Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day 2016

Turkey

                The Disciples

             Sometimes they acted like turkeys; sometimes they spoke like turkeys.  Sometimes they are just like you and me.  We are the type of people God loves; We are the type of people that Jesus came for.

 

Roast Potatoes

                The Roman Soldiers

Their on the plate, big, brash, hot and bothered.  Just doing their job.  Some of them mix with the other foods on the plate, but mostly they keep themselves to themselves.  Too many and you get full up too quickly.

 

Carrots

                The Pharisees

Pharisees are like carrots!  Some are chopped and boiled in water!  Some are part boiled, then roasted.  Others are coated in honey and baked.  Mine are a Tom Kerridge recipe:  Cooked in butter, sugar, water and Star Anise.  Some Pharisees are plain and boiled in water, trying to trick Jesus.  Others like Nicodemas are much more interesting, and ask Jesus really interesting things like:  How can a person be born-again?  Now that is a question full of flavour!

 

Sprouts

The Shepherds

The sprouts are either loved or hated.  Like 1st century shepherds in Palestine.  They can tend to be a bit wiffy on their own or if they’ve been “with you” for a while – know what I mean?

 

Parsnips

                The Wise Men from the East

A Christmas dinner doesn’t have to have parsnips.  But if cooked nicely can influence the whole dinner.  The wise men are a strange addition to Jesus’ story, they enter stage right, leave abruptly stage left and that’s it.  Would we miss them if they weren’t there?

 

Stuffing

                All God’s centuries old promises fulfilled in Jesus

The flavor of really good quality stuffing, enhancing all it is eaten with.  Just like the OT promises of God that speak of a coming Saviour that will rescue the people from their sins.  Century after century God spoke, and the people waited century after century.  And when God’s promises are fulfilled, the flavor to the rest of the meal of life is incredible.

 

Cranberry Sauce

                Mary

The sweetness of the sauce compliments all the food.  Mary was just an ordinary girl who loved God and was waiting for her Saviour to come.  How would she ever guess she would birth the boy around whom angels and shepherds and strange Eastern men and all the other things would happen?  The paradox is there for all to see:  The creature gives birth to the Creator.

 

Christmas Pudding

                Mary Magdalene

If Peter represents the fool, and Judas the betrayer, and Thomas the doubter, Mary Magdalene is often the one we are too full to stomach.  The religious people thought Jesus not religious to be welcoming such an awful sinner as Mary.  Jesus said, we have to stomach this one:  If Jesus welcomes the worst then we are welcome.

 

Mince Pies

                The crowds around Jesus

Occasionally we get offered mince pies, just like occasionally Jesus was surrounded by great crowds.  Intrigued by this rule-breaking Messiah.  Sometimes we don’t fancy a mince pie, we can’t be bothered.  Sometimes the crowds couldn’t be bothered when they realized Jesus wasn’t their puppet on a string, their court jester, their messianic clown.  They walked away.  Sometimes the plate of mince pies will come round and we will let it go, just as Jesus let the people go.

 

Wine

                All those healed of illness and disease

The Bible describes God’s kingdom like a party, and a party with wine, and that wine is “the very best!”  We live in the old wineskin of this world and in our bodies, and one day we will be in a new world, with new bodies and God’s new wine of the Kingdom.  Jesus’ first coming is like the opening ceremony of the Olympics before the main event.  His Second Coming will begin the main event.

 

And finally, the best is last…

Continue reading

The Smell of Christmas

The Smell of Christmas

 

Luke 2:7-8  ‘The Smell of Christmas’

What is the smell of Christmas to you?

For the smell of Christmas, we can only go to certain places in the Bible.

We would think the obvious place is the Gospels.

Well, Bingo! in Matthew and Luke;

But not a wiff in Mark and John.

 

Maybe Paul will write something about Jesus coming as a baby…..er, no. Nothing!

Even Revelation starts with the Cosmic Christ walking among the stars;

but nothing of the earthling Jesus lying among the animals.

 

Oh wait….I hear Christmas carol…..

Maybe ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ can help us…

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

 

Oh this one irks me!  It really ruffles my feathers!

The writer Cecil Alexander must have been having a brain freeze.

There is something quite wiffy about this part of his song….

And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,

Where on this tiny rice crisp of a planet did he get that from?

There is only one recorded instance of Jesus as a child, after the flight to and from Egypt.  In fact he was 12, and in the first century, on the cusp of manhood.

Luke 2:41-50 tells us Joseph and Mary journeyed home for a whole day before they realized the 12 year old Jesus was not with them.

When they find him back in Jerusalem (that’s two  days on the road not knowing where he is), in the Temple discussing theology with the professors and doctors, they chide him for “treating them [badly v.48]”.  I mean, where did he sleep; what did he eat; who was he with?  Who provided these things?

Jesus tells them v.49:  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know I would be about my Father’s business?”  But they did not understand

Thus the line in the Carol that goes:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Really gets my goat!

What manipulative Victorian manure….

Which brings me back to the question:  What is the smell of Christmas?

Maybe ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’ will help us!

Silent night, holy night…… 50% right!

How can screaming birthing mothers, animals in a barn, noisy neighbours and choirs of angels singing to shepherds possibly be silent!

Everything about this would freak us out if it happened to us.

But it’s been softened, smoothed, glossed, abstracted and sentimentalized.

Birthing mothers are not silent.

I’ve attended 4 births……..my own three……and of course, my own!

My first words were:  “What’s wrong mum?  Why are you screaming and why has dad fainted?”  Not bad for a 10 second old baby!

Animals don’t respect human social conventions.

They can’t read; They weren’t there when the angel told Mary she would have a son.

They might have thought it was ‘a bit odd’ that big humans were releasing little humans into the barn, but other than that, their toilet habits (for example), would have remained the same.

But we really must avoid this blandness that doesn’t reflect human reality, and therefore, biblical reality.

We need to defy the fantasy makers.

Not just out there in a culture that would see you spend so much in December it wouldn’t even care if your home got re-possessed in January.9780802841285

That’s why credit cards really should be called debt cards.  It’s words; words; words.

And defying the fantasy makers is why one theologian (Don Cupitt) has famously  called Christmas:  “The Disneyfication of Christianity.” (NB. At least he got that right amidst a whole career of re-imagining Christianity in the extreme.  Anthony Thiselton has a masterful couple of chapters in response to Cupitt’s theological vision in Interpreting God and the Postmodern self….but I digress…).

 

Maybe Cupitt’s phrase inspired the song ‘One God’ by the pop group The Beautiful South in the late 1990’s (or maybe vice-versa), with their prophetically provocative lyrics:

d658e184c2e606511c1a788a89427ade-800x800x1The world is turning Disney and there’s nothing you can do
You’re trying to walk like giants
But you’re wearing Pluto’s shoes

[Chorus]
And the answers fall easier from the barrel of a gun
Than it does from the lips of the beautiful and the dumb
The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun
With Coca Cola clouds behind a Big Mac sun

  Continue reading

About that baby in the manger…

difficult gospel“If Jesus’ whole life to us is God’s word to us, then he is God’s word not only when he is intelligible, not only when he makes clear sense – not only when he is graspable and useable by us.  He is also God’s word when he is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.  [Rowan] Williams notes our temptation to make the ‘tightly swaddled baby’ of the Christmas stories into ‘a gift-wrapped object, passive and docile for use in our business, our transactions; a lucky mascot; the sleeping partner in the firm (the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay)’ – ‘little Lord Jesus, like Little Lord Fauntelroy, who generates in us such good and warm feelings that we know we can’t be wrong’.  Williams reminds us just how strange this view is:

‘The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes / But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.’  Every parent in Christendom must have blinked with incredulous envy at this miracle:  never mind the angels and the star, a baby who doesn’t cry when surrounded by a herd of hungry cows is much more of a prodigy!  Babies, in fact, may be wordless and dependent, but they are not, as a rule silent, nor are they passive.  They make their presence felt, they alter lives; their dependence is a matter of fingers clutching at ours when we’d like to be getting on with something; broken nights, hungry mouths at the breast; the need to be taught and watched and entertained, brought into the world of human speech and relation.  If God is with us as a child – a real child – he is not after all so tidily gift-wrapped, so functional.  If God is with us as a child, he is certainly with us as one who calls out our tenderness and compassion; but he does so by an insistent presence without shame or restraint, crying and clutching.  He is the God who, in St. Augustine’s unforgettable words, penetrates my deafness by his violent loud crying . . . . . So far from the divine child being a cipher, the tool of our schemes and systems, he confronts us with the alarming, mysterious, shattering strangeness of God.’

That Jesus is also God’s word to us when he is this child reminds us that God is not simply there to meet our needs, and that our language about and understanding of God – which tries to wrap him up, tie him down, and place him silent in the manger – needs interrupting, needs to be made aware  of its deafness.  We are too prone to relish the success of our language about God, to think that we have understood – that our smooth, neatly interlocking concepts allow us to grasp all that really needs to be said about God.  Williams takes the disturbing, interrupting, uncontrollable nature of a child’s crying as a sign of the wildly prolific, difficult, messy, uncontrollable, inelegant, disturbing nature of the language about God that we find in our Bible and in the testimonies of obstinate believers who refuse to see things in quite the way we do, and therefore as a sign of the ways in which God escapes all our language.

[T]here is a terrible aptness, a rhetorical rightness, in a God who speaks in a child’s cry.  And it is so cruelly hard – for believer and unbeliever alike – to face the possibility that silence, stumbling aparent crudity, tell you more of God than the language of would-be adult sophistication.  As if the best theology were the noise of someone falling over things in the dark.

It is God himself who lobs rocks into the smooth pond of our language about God, shattering our complacency – and only so can he keep us from preferring the idols which our words construct.  ‘[W]e must be surprised, ambushed and carried off by God,’ Williams says, ‘if we are to be kept from idols.’  ‘God himself is the great “negative theologian”, who shatters all our images by addressing us in the cross of Jesus.’

When we think about God, there is always an extent to which we end up fitting him into our world, as one element in it among others.  We simply can’t think God’s absolute difference from the world, and God’s absolute intimacy to it; we can only gesture towards an understanding with inadequate pictures and images.  We need constantly to be reminded that the reality towards which even our best words gesture transcends them and exceeds them – that, however much they are appropriate ingredients in the process by which we are drawn into the life of God, and weaned from self-serving idols, all our words fail radically to grasp God.  The God we can think, the God we fit into our mental schemas, the God we can put on a list of things we understand, is not not God.”

Mike Higton, Difficult Gospel – The Theology of Rowan Williams, p.50-52

Ironies of the Nativity

A short reflection used throughout a candlit carol service at church. 

Ironies of the Nativity in Matthew 2
2:1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea…”
Bethlehem. The ancestral birth place of the Great King David, through whose line the promised Messiah would come. So Jesus was born of a royal human line in fulfillment of Scripture and the hope of the word. Born in a place which means “House of Bread” – a clue to His own identity as the Bread of Heaven, the bread which fed the Israelites in their wandering wilderness, and ultimately, his claim to be the Bread of Life. “No one lives by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus is the Word of God that comes from the mouth of God. It is on Him we feed and find true sustenance.

2:1 “…in the days of Herod the King…”
In the days of one king, is born another. In the days of a false king, an example of human pomp and arrogance, is born the true King, in humility and weakness. A King born into this world, whose kingdom is not of this world. A heavenly fulfillment of an earthly promise: He shall reign forever, King of Kings and Lord of lords.

Continue reading

O Come All Ye Fearful

Shopping

O Come All Ye Fearful

O come all ye fearful

Laden with your credit,

O come ye, O come ye, to all the shops.

Come and buy more stuff

To fill up all your houses….

* * * * *

O come let us buy more stuff,

O come let us buy more stuff,

O come let us buy more stuff,

Consumerism is Lord.

* * * * * Continue reading