Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Who Owns Christmas? - Sunday 26th November 2017

Love it or hate it, Christmas is coming. In Christian circles the arrival of Christmas is accompanied by a raft of complaints that the birth of Jesus has been squeezed out, that commercialism has taken over, and that Christmas isn’t about Jesus any more.
The truth is that Christmas didn't start out as a Christian festival. Long before Christianity came to northern Europe, people celebrated Yule on midwinter's night. They decorated their homes with evergreen plants, and lit lights to mark the resurgence of the sun and it’s victory over death and darkness. In Scandinavia, they believed that the god Odin rode across the sky that night on his 8 hoofed horse, reassuring humanity that light and life were on their way. With the arrival of Christianity, the traditional Yule decorations were reinterpreted as symbols of God’s light coming into the world, and Odin was rebranded as St Nicholas.
As Christmas didn’t originally belong to Christianity, Christians don’t need to feel resentful about it’s secular features. We would do better to follow the good example of our forebears, who accepted the enduring popularity of the festival and used it as an opportunity to draw attention to the good news about Jesus.
The European winter festival has always been about hope and good news. Deep in the heart of Yule was a belief that good is stronger than evil, life is stronger than death, and light stronger than darkness. These same themes lie at the heart of the Christian good news. As St John put it, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
The key task for Christians at Christmas-time is to draw attention to the real hope that the world can be a better, brighter place if people follow the example and teaching of Jesus. And we need to do that, not by getting grumpy, but in the same quiet, humble and gentle manner that God came into our world.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A Better World - Sunday 12th November 2017

Is the world becoming a better place or a worse place than it used to be?
There seems to be a feeling around that things are getting worse. This is sad. It is also worrying for Christians, because we have a message to proclaim that Jesus came to show us a better way of being in this world. If the world is getting worse, then those of us who are custodians of Jesus’ message aren’t doing our job very well.
Jesus showed very little interest politics on any level, neither did he get involved in the legal process of his day - even though other rabbis were central to the legal system, and many of them were active politicians. The essence of Jesus’ message (in both word and action) was that politics and law will not make this world any better. What is needed is for ordinary people to take more responsibility for caring for those around them - especially those in particular need.
If we want our world to be better, then we need to start by making it better for the next person we meet, and the person after them, and so on. Every time we encounter someone we have the opportunity to make their day better or worse. If we achieve the former, then the world is a better place.
What we see and read in the news is not an accurate measure of whether the world is a better place or not. Jesus told his disciples, “There will be wars and rumours of wars, but that is not the end of it.” Two thousand years later, there are still wars and rumours of wars (there’s not a lot that you or I can do about that), and the world still hasn’t ended.
What you and I can do is to make the world a better place, at least for a short while, for the people we meet this week. Let’s do it.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Fighting Back - Sunday 5th November 2017

I get very irritated by the inconsiderate and impatient drivers who speed around London, pushing to the front of traffic queues. Their rudeness brings rudeness out of me. When they try to push in front of my car, I try to squeeze them out. I get cross and agitated, and express my annoyance. I don’t think I’m the only one.
Jesus advises a different way of responding to the irritations around us. He didn’t have to cope with London drivers, but - having walked around the narrow alleys of ancient Capernaum - I suspect that tempers got stretched there just as much as they do in our over-crowded streets.
Jesus advised the ordinary folk of Capernaum: “Don’t resist tedious people. If someone slaps you on one cheek, let them slap the other. If someone sues you, give them more than they are asking for. If someone forces you to go out of your way for them, go even further. And if anyone asks something of you, give it to them." (See Matthew 5:39-32 for the official version.) In short: go around this world with a generous heart.
We like to feel in control of our lives: our time, our bodies and our money. When we do not feel in control, we get stressed: our heartbeat rises, adrenaline flows, our fight/flight instincts take over. Jesus proposes a different way. We don’t need to be in control. We don’t need to protect our dignity. God loves us, and he loves those challenging people just as much as he loves us. ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ is not God’s way.
Jesus didn’t just teach this different way, he lived it. When 5000 people gatecrashed a quiet day out with his disciples, he loved them, taught them and fed them. And ultimately, when the Jewish authorities decided that he had to be killed, Jesus let them do even that. That’s how he chose to save the world.
We don’t have to push back. We don’t need to resist. There is a better way. God loves those annoying and demanding people, and he wants us to love them too.