If only they’d checked!

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I really enjoyed this Christmas bite from the splendiferous Martin (he ain’t heavy) Ayers.  Perhaps you can spare 7 mins to have a listen too.  (I think it must have followed a little drama sketch, but you should be able to follow it without much trouble!)

Whether you’re an “Amos” or a “shepherd”, I hope you make the most of your Christmas xx

Hand-in-Hand to Bethlehem

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I love Christmas, me. I love Chris Rea, Wizzard, Paul and Yoko and the Pogues. I love carols. I love mince pies, mulled wine, and sausage stuffing.   I love buying presents for my family and friends. I love having something to be excited about. I am like Scrooge, the way he turned out in the end. (I love A Christmas Carol.)

Christmas certainly means different things to different people. This week I was reading about the trend of buying just four presents for your child: one thing they want; one thing they need; one thing to wear; one thing to read. I also read a lot of opinions about this idea, which I found quite enlightening. I turns out that the idea of only buying four gifts for your child is pretty scandalous. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, as Christmas for many people is focused on their children. When I had my first child, someone said to me that I’d enjoy Christmas much more now because it’s more magical with children around. I kind of know what he meant, but to be honest I don’t think my brother and I ever lost the magic of Christmas. We behave like children as soon as we cross the threshold of our parents’ home anyway.

It’s true, is it not, that much of Christmas involves watching your children. Watching them in the school play; watching them opening their presents; watching them sit on Santa’s knee; watching them ride their new bike. And I’m not judging that, but I think there must be more to Christmas than that. I feel that if our Christmas joy is wrapped up in our children, disappointments may abound. What if they are playing the innkeeper’s silent dog again? What if they have a trantrum abut their presents? What if they cry on Satna’s knee? What if they fall of their bike and end up in A&E? And, perhaps worst of all, what if they know that our Christmas joy depends on their contentment? That’s a lot of pressure.

I think we can have a more joyful perspective. My pastor says that in marriage, rather than spending our lives staring into each other’s eyes, we should be walking hand-in-hand towards the throne of God. Or as Tim Keller puts it, we say “I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” (from The Meaning of Marriage.)

I know that parenting is not marriage. They are different. However, if we are walking hand in hand towards the throne and taking our children with us, how much more exciting that will be than if we are just gathered around our children, focusing on them. And how liberating it will be for us and them if we know that Jesus is the one who makes Christmas wonderful.

If the Nativity play serves as a reminder that God’s Son came to live amongst us, then nobody will mind which part they play. (My children’s school play isn’t anything to do with Jesus this year, but thankfully they’ll be in a couple of other nativities.) If the gifts are there to remind us of God’s amazing gift of his perfect Son, then we’ll be more than happy with one or two (or three or even four!). If we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that means for us as God’s people, we won’t have time to queue up for Santa’s grotto anyway.   And as for the trip to A&E, that will be something of a disappointment. But that’s OK, because we’re looking ahead to a perfect world, made open to us by the coming of our Saviour.

It’s so easy at Christmas to get our heads down and forget the bigger picture. To get stressed about the shopping or the cooking or the costume-sourcing. But I’m going to try to lift my eyes to Jesus, to his scandalous incarnation, to God’s glory, to good news of great joy, and I’m hoping that my children will follow my gaze and look up at him with me.

The Christmas Alphabet

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I know it’s very much still Autumnal November, but I’m just planning ahead.

I’ve got an idea for a Christmas card craft, and in order to do it I needed a Christmas Alphabet.  I could have just Googled this, but I wanted to make it up myself (no-one knows why).  Speaking of Alphabets, I highly recommend you listen to the Bible Alphabet song from Emu’s J is for Jesus CD.  (“H is for heaven, where I-I am going,” need I-I say more?)

I don’t know if this could be helpful to you in any way?  Perhaps you could do one a day during advent?  I know that the alphabet is 26 letters long, not 24, but some of them could be squashed together.  For example, you’ll notice that Q is a bit, well, not quite tenuous but perhaps uninspiring.   Sometimes I was spoilt for choice, so I put a few ideas down and have underlined the one I’ve used here.

You might also notice that there is a lot of repetition, which (aside from maybe being inevitable) was deliberate.  Children like repetition, and it helps them learn.  I was actually amazed by how much you can get out of Luke Chapter 2 alone.  I mostly used Isaiah 9; Matthew 1-2; Luke 2; John 1.

So without further ado, here you go – an early Christmas present from me (no expense spared):

Angels:  But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

Bethlehem: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’ Micah 5:2

Christ: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. Luke 2.11

David’s Town: Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:11 (See also: Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ Luke 7:42; “He will reign on David’s throne’ Isaiah 9:7)

Everlasting Father: “For to us a child is born… And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Favour: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:14

Glory/Grace/Gold/Gift/Good news/Grace: We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Holy/Heavenly Host/Hope: Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:13-14

Immanuel:  All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). Matthew 1:22-23

Joy/Jesus: But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

King: ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ Matthew 2:2

Love/Life/Light:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

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Messiah/Manger This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18

Noel/Nativity/News: But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

One & Only Son: We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Prince of Peace:  For to us a child is born… And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Quiet/Quirinius: This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register. Luke 2:2-3 (You could talk about the sovereignty of God, and the fact that these events happened in real history.) If you’re not keen on this, you could do “Quiet” and talk about how quietly God’s rescuing King came.

Rejoice/Revelation/Righteousness/Reigns The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:20 (also “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10)
(or Revelation: No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. John 1:18)

Saviour:  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2.11

Truth: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Unto Us a child is born “Unto to us a child is born,
to us a son is given…” Isaiah 9:6

Virgin: All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). Matthew 1:22-23

Wonderful/Worship: When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)

X: Gloria in Excelsis Deo:
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:14

Yahweh: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Zeal: Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end…
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:7

As ever, your comments are really welcome.  Plus, if you think this is helpful please do share it with others. Happy Autumn everybody!

Good News (finally)!

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By the time you read this I’ll be in sunny Mexico!

Of course that’s not true, I’m not going to Mexico for Christmas.  I’m going to my mum and dad’s, up North, which I love. And one thing you can be sure of at my mum’s – especially at Christmas – is that wherever you’re sitting, there’ll be a newspaper supplement within arm’s reach.

But as I sit down by the fire to look at “2015 in Pictures” it’s not going to fill me with a warm fuzzy glow of contentment, is it? In 2015 the news has been dominated by terrorism, refugees fleeing for their lives, the earthquakes in Nepal back in April, shootings in the United States, and corruption in FIFA. You can easily start to wonder, is there any hope for our world today? Sometimes we just need to hear some good news, don’t we?

Well let’s look at the most terrifying birth announcement in history, from Luke’s gospel (you can read the full passage here):

There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby. It was night, and they were taking care of their sheep. An angel of the Lord appeared to them. And the glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news. It will bring great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord. (From Luke 2)

We don’t know much about these shepherds, but they were doing a hard job that isolated them from the rest of the community.  They were Jews living in Roman-occupied Judea in Israel. They were poor, and they would have had to pay high taxes to the Romans. Life was tough.

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We’ve heard about the shepherds and the angels so many times that it doesn’t surprise us anymore, but really it is shocking that an angel visited these poor men, working a nightshift outside a small, insignificant town.

I saw the Queen the other day. It was one of the most exciting things that’s happened to me in a long time! I was walking past a church, and she was getting out of a car and walking into the church. I saw her for about five and she didn’t even wave.

But if she’d stopped and turned round, come over to me and said, ‘Can we talk? I have some important news for you, Catherine,’ that would have been astonishing! Because why would the Queen of our nation and the commonwealth want to speak to me, lowly northern housewife that I am?   And if we think that’s ridiculous, then how much more amazing is it that the God of the universe sent his angels to visit these ordinary shepherds?

And what did the angel say? ‘I bring you good news.’ They needed some good news. And don’t we, too?

And do you notice, the angel doesn’t say ‘I bring you a new religion, or I’ve brought you a new set of rules to follow.’ This baby is good news for all of us. This is what makes Jesus’ message so different from all other religions and all other lifestyle choices. It’s not advice or rules or a moral code to follow.   It’s joyful, life-changing news.*

So what’s this news about?

Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord.

Messiah  means ‘anointed one’, or king. It’s the same word as Christ. These Jewish shepherds, if they knew their Jewish scriptures, would have known that God had promised to send a rescuing king to save them.

But what did they need saving from? We get the answer in Matthew Chapter 1, where an angel tells Joseph, Mary’s husband-to-be, that this baby will ‘save his people from their sins.’

It’s not really normal to talk about sins anymore, unless it’s something to do with eating a curly wurly when you’re doing slimming world. I remember Kayleigh in Peter Kay’s Car Share talking about saving up all her syns for the weekend.

But in the Bible sin isn’t something to joke about. It’s the reason we’re not in the relationship with God that we were all made for. My kids have learnt at church that Sin (SIN) stands for Shove off God, I’m in charge, No to your rules. We want to be in charge of our lives, and so we don’t want God telling us what to do. And that means we’re not right with God, and it’s what makes relationships with each other so hard, too.

We might see this most clearly in children, just because they don’t cover it up as well as adults. ‘No!’ ‘Don’t want to!’ ‘Won’t!’ They lie on the floor kicking and screaming because they can’t have their own way. But I do wonder, am I any different, deep down?

The Bible says that this is not just what petulant tots do, it’s the way we all act towards God: we’ve all decided to be in charge of our own lives and so we’ve cut ourselves off from God. That’s why a new set of rules to follow isn’t going to help us, we need a saviour.

I don’t know if you read the story back in May about Pemba Tamang, a 15-year-old Nepalese boy who became trapped under the rubble of a 7-storey hotel during the Kathmandu earthquake. Amazingly he survived for five until a rescue team appeared and dug him out.

Now imagine that instead of clearing a path and carrying him out on a stretcher, the team had just shouted down instructions to him, or sent him a little map of how to crawl out. Of course that wouldn’t work, would it? He was completely trapped, absolutely helpless. He didn’t need instructions, he needed rescuing.

The Bible says that our sin has trapped us, so that we’re cut off from God with no way of helping ourselves out. That’s why a new moral code or a new religion isn’t going to help us. That’s why we need a saviour. And that’s why Jesus is good news for all of us. Jesus came for everyone, because we’re all like Pemba Tamang, trapped under the rubble and debris of our own sin. We all need this Saviour.

Think about it, do I believe that I’m a sinner? Maybe not, most of us don’t think of ourselves as sinners do we? But put it this way: do I live as though I think that I can get on with my life without God in charge of me? Because God sees that as sin, and a serious problem, which cost him everything to fix. He sent his son to earth as a fragile baby so that we could be brought back into that relationship with God that we were made for.

Some news you read or hear about and it just doesn’t apply to you. It might be interesting or even shocking, but unless it’s something to do with the country where you live, or likely to affect you personally, you can usually just carry on as if it’s not really happening.

And I think one way to respond to the message about Jesus is like that, to think ‘well this just doesn’t apply to me.’ But this news isn’t like that. The angels say it’s for all the people. So that does include us. Because God’s view is that everyone needs this Saviour.

Or another way you might respond is to think that you just don’t believe any of this stuff happened. Angels? Saviours?  None of it sounds real. And if that’s how you feel, maybe you could try doing what the shepherds did: “Let’s go to Bethlehem. Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Maybe, this Christmas, you could go and see for yourself. Read one of the four gospels (Matthew/Mark/Luke/John), or ask a Christian friend to read the Bible with you.  I’d love you to you know how fantastic this news really is, so let me know (e.g. in the comments) if you’d like to and you’re not sure how, or check out the links below:

Some good questions are answered well here, such as ‘can we trust the bible?’
Or there is this short video explaining the Christian message.
Here’s a festive video from my friend Rachel: Make the Most of Christmas

*this is paraphrased from Timothy Keller, King’s Cross.

This blog post is adapted from a talk I did this week at a Christmas event.  Sorry it’s long, but the talk was twice as long! Hope you made it to the end.

As usual, please comment by clicking on the speech bubble at the top.

Joy

It’s never to early to get happy about Jesus!

Mum in Zone One

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A lovely Kurdish friend of mine asked me a question today about our children’s Christmas performance, ‘Is it about Christmas, or is it religious?’

I think she put her finger on something, don’t you? Christmas has become (posh word alert) dichotomised: there’s the secular wintertide festival, and the ‘religious’ Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Sometimes there’s some overlap, although to be honest sometimes I’d rather keep them separate. Do we want reindeer in the stable, or shepherds in Santa’s grotto? Doesn’t that just confuse everyone?

Lots of Christians get upset about this. And actually, a lot of ‘church-goers’ or morally upstanding citizens (and apparently The Daily Mail) get upset about it too. And I agree with some of what they say. Santa does rob Jesus of his glory at Christmas, and that is bad. But when my friends who aren’t Christians don’t celebrate Jesus at Christmas, that doesn’t actually surprise…

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Have a Happy Advent

Several blog posts are in my mind at the moment, but haven’t made it onto the blog.  That’s not much use to you, sorry.  Hopefully after my daughter’s birthday party this Saturday there’ll be a post about that and other things coming your way.

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend this book to you: The One True Light by Tim Chester.  It’s available here.  I don’t have much time to tell you why it’s a good idea to get excited about Jesus this Christmas, but I will re-blog my post, Joy, from last year above this instead (or you can click on the link).  We are so blessed to have resources like this book to help us focus on Christ, the one true gift who truly satisfies.

I’m starting these advent readings now, because I’m pretty hopeless at reading the Bible on my own once a day 7 days a week (gasp!), so I wanted to give myself a head start.  I hope you find this or something similar a blessing to you this Christmas.

Live this Christmas

"I like your Christmas shoes" my 3 yr old friend told me.  I didn't admit I've been wearing them all year.
“I like your Christmas shoes” my 3 yr old friend told me. I didn’t admit I’ve been wearing them all year.

You’re busy and I’m busy so let’s keep this brief. The older my children have become, the more my Christmas has turned into a stereotype. Here I am, rushing from Nativity Play to Candlelit Carol service, waking in the night and pondering recipe ideas, and wondering where to hide yet another bag of Christmas prezzies.

This week:
– I decided to try making canapés for the first time – ha ha! I’m neither a 70’s housewife nor a wedding caterer, but I thought it would be fun. It was.
– I also decided to make Christmas cookies for my hairdresser and his assistant, since a) their mums are in far away countries and b) I thought it might cut through some of the intimidation I feel every time I go in. It did.
– Since it was my birthday, I also volunteered to make a giant, Christmassy birthday cake for our church’s Christmas party. Yum.

I decided to do all of these things in between Christmas fetes and Christmas parties and last minute shopping. And that’s OK. I had cheerful and loving motives. – but not entirely.

I had half an hour to myself last Sunday during a Nativity rehearsal, so I settled down in a nearby café with my Tim Keller book, King’s Cross. I’m up to the bit where he writes about humans deep down feeling inconsequential (or ‘unclean’), and all the ways they try to make up for that. There I was, innocently reading about how that affects Christian ministers, and I read something which unexpectedly had me weeping into my overpriced porridge:
You had assumed, ‘If people like me and say, ‘Oh, how much you help me,’ then God will like me and I will like myself, and then that sense of inconsequentiality… of uncleanness, will go away.’ But it doesn’t… I was reading Romans 1:17 in the following way “He who through faith is righteous shall live,” and I almost heard a voice saying, “Yes, and he who through preaching is righteous shall die every Sunday.”

Why did this affect me so much? Perhaps my man Timothy had put his finger on something. Or rather God was putting his finger on something. Maybe what I needed to hear was this:

“She who through baking and cooking and decorating the living room is righteous shall die every Christmas.”

On some level, no matter how many times I hear that my identity, my worth and my acceptable-ness are wonderfully found in Christ, I still want to prove myself. And Christmas is the season to prove yourself, isn’t it? I’m doing the Christmas dinner this year for the first time ever, and that’s an opportunity to bless my family. It’s also an opportunity to strive for airbrushed perfection of the supermarket magazines. But Eve Pollard made a good point in Good Housekeeping’s Christmas issue this year in her column about banning technology on Christmas day: ‘Professional food photographers spend hours making Christmas dinner look like something in an M&S advert. I don’t need some amateur Twitter-snapper broadcasting unappetizing snaps of my offerings to the world!’ (December 2014 issue, p. 61)

When I see Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and the like on the side of a bus stop, I know that they’re airbrushed, crimped and possibly starved to ‘perfection’, and so it would be foolish and futile to aim to look anything like them. So why do I think my canapés are any different? Nigella’s Christmas book (where I find all, yes all of my Christmas recipes) is a useful tool, but I needn’t pretend I can make something that looks like her pictures. And that’s OK, because this Christmas I don’t have to prove myself. I don’t have to prove myself as a wife, mother, friend, sister or domestic goddess. I can’t make myself acceptable by baking or cooking or decorating the tree (we don’t actually have a tree). And I don’t need to.

So I hope you enjoy your Christmas, and most of all I hope you’ll be able to rejoice that Christ has made you clean; he’s made you acceptable; he’s given you value beyond your wildest dreams. Don’t measure yourself according to your own or others’ expectations. Measure yourself by this:

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21.