Sunday, 28 December 2014

Included in God's picture

One of the presents given to my daughter this Christmas was a selfie-stick.  A selfie stick, allows someone to get more into the photo by creating extra distance between the phone and those wanting to be in the picture.  So (embarrassing as it is) attached to this blog is my selfie pic for the first Sunday after Christmas taken at CTK this morning. 

One of the things I love about Christmas is its inclusivity.  The accounts of the nativity are great stories because they make room for so many different people.  The grumpy inn keeper who has no room; the common-or-garden shepherds out in the countryside; the princes from foreign lands and, of course, Mary, Joseph and the animals by the manger. As someone once said to me, there’s even room for the ass (and most families have one of those!). And it feels like the most tentative figure struggling to find room is God.  Just imagine.  Without modern medical advice to tell when a baby is due; lacking familiar people like a local midwife to help with the delivery; and most of all having no idea where this life would come into the world.  I think most of us would find that a pretty terrifying combination of alarming things.  Yet God entrusts this Divine cargo to Mary and Joseph.  Ordinary people asked to do an extraordinary thing.

At Christmas we are reminded that it is God who risks everything to get into our picture. Those who are in-the-know, like the shepherds and the Magi, appreciate how amazing it is to be part of that picture.  But most of the rest of the world had no idea who had arrived. By putting Jesus in the frame we are all dignified and honoured.  But more than that.  The appearance of Jesus can change our landscape forever. His appearance transforms everything he’s connected with, including us.  God is thrown into human life so that the division between what’s holy and what’s human ceases to matter.  In Jesus we can lead undivided lives – living the life to come in our lives today, tasting the Kingdom even before it has fully arrived.  Like the Old Testament vision of the ladder between earth and heaven the arrival of Jesus is a vital and lasting connection between the God and humanity.

The immense commitment of God in sending Jesus to become part of our picture means that we don’t need to do anything alone.  Jesus restores us to the life God meant us to lead and even our worship of God now takes place through the holiness Jesus gives us. 

Jesus has become part of how we see ourselves, and at Christmas God invites us to live out the truth of this, and do whatever we can to get caught up in the drama and mystery of salvation.  Jesus is part of our spiritual selfie – and we are in turn invited to find our place in God’s story.  

Maggie McLean

Monday, 22 December 2014

A Christmas Truce?

Christmas Truce Angus McBride
All along the front the guns fell silent and the strains of “Stille Nacht” floated through frozen air, hanging like angel-song between warring armies…

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has become steeped in a rich mythology all of its own. We have fallen in love with the moment when the shooting stopped, soldiers all along the Western Front breathed a sigh, and humanity briefly turned away from its struggle to destroy. The images of Tommies and Germans exchanging cigarettes and schnapps in No Man’s Land, along with the stories of impromptu games of football and carol-singing have become cherished symbols of humanity’s  ability, just occasionally, to rise above hatred and violence, and to allow the expression of compassion, fellow-feeling and decency. That moment in history, we like to believe, shows us that we are so much more than we often fear ourselves to be and that it is really the better angels of our natures which are in charge of our destinies. For a brief while the bloodshed paused, and there really was “Peace on Earth; Goodwill to All”.

Of course, it wasn’t quite like that. The Truce was not held all along the line; indeed, in some sectors of the front fierce fighting continued through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There were many instances of fraternisation involving cigarettes and alcohol, but, alas, there are no accounts in any official records or personal reminiscences of those football matches so beloved of the public imagination and advertising executives. In fact, often the “festivities” were limited to a mutual agreement to allow the collection and burial of dead from No Man’s Land and an undertaking “not to shoot first”. No, the fabled Truce was not all it is cracked up to be.

But, as with all fables, the Truce’s power lies not in the truth of historical detail from which it springs, but in the wider truth we take from it. Take the fabulous story we are celebrating now. Is the Nativity Story a Christian fable? What is the kernel of truth here? Was Jesus really born in a stable attended by shepherds and angels? Did wise men really follow a star to find him? Does it matter whether any of it actually happened as described? I don’t know, but in a sense the matter of fact is not important to me because I do know that the story, dramatic and poignant, points to the wonderful truth of God’s great love for us.

Similarly, the story of the Truce, however embellished, tells us that even in the midst of war’s soulless, industrialised misery enemies can put aside their differences and simply be human. True, throughout all wars there have been individual instances of kindness, compassion and love shown between those who should hate each other, but the collective act of the Truce has become for us all a precious icon of the best, rather than the worst of what we can be. In the generous exchange of cigars and whisky, the sharing of photographs and songs, and even in the fictional additions of football matches we see the truth of which we constantly need reminding: that, wherever we are, whatever the circumstances, God is alive in us.

Nigel Day Director of Music CTK, Battyeford

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Managing God?

"Do not despise the prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good”. 
1 Thessalonians 5:20

Recently I participated in some management training, along with many other NHS managers.  There is a serious point to this training, but it is sometimes hard to move past the frequent use of management speak by those leading the sessions.  So, at different times, we were challenged to ‘source yourself in the future’ and ‘stand in the result’. 

It’s no wonder the BBC and others find it so easy to parody this kind of language in comedy shows.  It was done to amusing effect in the TV series “2012” about the delivery of the Olympic Games.

Perhaps more surprising is that the Church of England itself appears to have bought into this strange world of management speak.  The recently released Green Report is set to put the C of E on track for a management make-over with leadership talent spotting and various kinds of secular training.  Sadly, all too often the Church is dazzled by the secular world and swallows uncritically the fashionable ideas of the time.  Tellingly, when it came to women finding an equal place in leadership, the proposal was met with rigorous theological scrutiny and a 20 year process of debate and discernment.  Contrastingly when it comes to changing our ideas of management theory for all clergy no theological input has been required and the whole plan is blind to any of its own weaknesses or shortcomings.

The Church is meant to be a different kind of society.  Advent reminds us of alternative futures, one of which calls Christians to live a different kind of life today.  That will never succeed simply by efficient management.  We are invited in 1 Thessalonians to “test everything” and hold on to the things that belong to God’s Kingdom.  Sound-bites and slogans don’t achieve the kind of radical transformation we are called to in the life of Christ.  In Advent the prophets embody their message with lives devoted to the task of communicating God’s word.  They aren’t just standing in the result of an imagined future- they are living it already, changing the world by their lives, and inviting us to begin our life in the Kingdom with them today.
Whenever we come to share in Holy Communion we taste something of that future to which we are called.  We digest it—it becomes part of us.  Fed on the food of God’s Kingdom we are sent out to live the truth of our new relationship with God.  It is simply by living that life that we became salt and light in our communities, changing the world in small but decisive ways.  Like John the Baptist we are preparing the way for God’s arrival, amending our lives and encouraging others: the true task of the Advent season.

Chris Swift

Monday, 8 December 2014

Advent candles tell their story..

Churches are often full of light at this time a year as we prepare our buildings for Christmas and candles take centre stage in our worship, with the lighting of Advent Candles and the myriad of Christingle Services held up and down the country.

This is no different at Christ the King and we took this opportunity to use church candles as a teaching aid within church and schools to share an important message.

A Candle for Christmas* is a story about a small undervalued birthday cake candle wanting to have an ‘important’ job like all the other candles she sees around church: altar, Christingle, Paschal, Advent, and Votive.

In her journey around the church and her interaction with the other church candles the Birthday Candle began to understand how the different sorts of candles help the worship and life of the church. But as she was to learn size and prominence don’t matter; however small and apparently insignificant we may think we are, we are all important to God and our work and worth are valued and recognised. As the little Birthday Candle was told:

“Importance has got nothing to do with size. In many ways you are the most useful candle of all when we get to Christmas, because you remind us that Christmas is a really important birthday; it’s the birthday of Jesus – the time when God came into our world not as a great king, not as a high and mighty ruler, but as a tiny helpless baby. That’s what we’re getting ready for in church during what we call Advent. So you, (little) birthday candle are just now about the most important candle of all.”

Like a candle flame
Flickering small in our darkness
Uncreated light
Shines through infant eyes
God is with us, alleluia. Come to save us, alleluia. (Graham Kendrick)

Ian Grange

*based on an originally story © Vaughan Roberts published in the Nov/Dec 2000 edition of Together with Children 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Reflection for Advent Sunday

I’ve never really had an enough patience for bird watching or any great interest in becoming a Twitcher. Whilst on the Isle of Skye last year, however, I did find myself spending quite a number of hours sitting patiently looking out for a pair of Golden Eagles which had been spotted that day around the Quiraing Mountains at the top of the island.

As I reflect on that it occurred to me that the idea of the ‘twitcher’ is a good one to think about for the season of Advent which we begin today. 

A twitcher requires great patience. It requires you to keep very still; observing; waiting; watching.  And while it may seem very passive, there is in the watcher a gentle sense of excitement – that after much waiting the observer might be rewarded with something very special.

In Mark’s Gospel this morning we hear Jesus talking about a similar time of waiting.  But this is no hobby, and what is expected will change everything.  It is the purpose of the Advent season to keep us awake – on our toes – mindful that nothing in life is ever certain, even the moment when everything is gathered back to God.

The readings in Advent are full of those who are waiting.  John the Baptist looking for ‘the one who is to come’; a woman for her child; and a people for their King. All wait, all watch, and in this season of Advent we watch with them.

I think Advent is strange season. It is both hopeful and apocalyptic. It promises salvation and restoration, but it does so through events that often sound dreadful and even violent. It is described by Jesus as the birth pangs of the world, the onset of pain before the beginning of a life that is new.

So we wait and watch. We hear in the prayer for Advent Sunday a reminder to stay awake and keep alert. We are reminded that tomorrow holds no certainties and that even today our world might change in the blink of an eye.  And because of all this, despite the approaching festivities of Christmas, Advent is a sober season.

Much of this is taken up in Ann Lewin’s poem ‘Disclosure’ as she reflects on prayer:

Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher.
All you can do is be where he is likely to appear, and wait.
Often, nothing much happens;
there is space, silence and expectancy.
No visible sign, only the knowledge that he's been there and may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
you have been prepared.
But sometimes, when you've almost stopped expecting it,
a flash of brightness gives encouragement.

Advent advances into the growing darkness of winter.  It reminds us of the uncertain nature of the world, and of the hour of God’s coming.  But it also rewards the watcher – and gives the hope that the brightness of another Kingdom is never far from us.

Maggie McLean