Saturday, December 24, 2005

Giving the gift

Giving gifts is a most enjoyable part of Christmas
(and receiving them too).
But all of us knows that great sense of satisfaction
when something we have given
is really appreciated.
The emotion is tangible
and the warmth is real.
So enjoy your gifts.
We give gifts at Christmas,
not because we are giving Jesus a birthday present
....if we were doing that then we would give the presents to Jesus, but we don't do that
Maybe we should!

But the gift giving is actually to celebrate
that our God is a God who gives.
St John tells us in the most famous of biblical quotations
"God loved the world so much that he gave"
and what he gave to the world was
"his only that all who believe in him
should not perish but have everlasting life."
(John 3:16)
So we give to remind ourselves
that to be like God
we are to be giving.

Two dimensions
Let's remind ourselves of a couple of dimensions of giving
that unfold for us in the Christmas story.
1. The most important giving is the giving of one's self to another person
Whether it be as a mother or a father to their children
or as a husband and wife to each other
or as friends in friendship
it is not the size or value of the material presents that is important
it is the degree to which we give ourselves, our time, our love.
(No one will lie on their deathbed and say ...":You gave me the biggest Christmas present ever"
But we may just say...when I was really in trouble you stood by me
when I had no friends you were still there for me)
Giving goes on throughout the whole of Jesus's life
it culminates not in his birth
but in his death.

The ultimate gift of God
is that Jesus gives himself up for us
and dies
in order that we might live.
Do we have that same sort of commitment?

2. Giving of ourselves will make us vulnerable

Relationships are risky!
We cannot escape from the fact
that if we are to truly give ourselves
then that will make us vulnerable.
In the relationships that matter:
with our families
our lovers
our friends...
if we are to give ourselves then we will be at risk.
Those who we love the most
are also most capable of hurting us
and we are most capable of hurting
...parents damage children and children their parents,
wives and husbands run great risk
true friendship is dangerous
Relationships are risky business.
But is it worth it.
The question is not
How dangerous is it?
But is it worth it?
The cost is great, but so are the rewards.
God loved the world
that he gave
so that everyone would have fulness of life
Indeed if we are to live a meaningful life we have to take this risk.
There is nothing worse than being cosseted and protected
We may be "safe" but we are probably lifeless...maybe even dead.
The risk of not making ourself vulnerable is far worse
and more certain
than the risk of giving ourselves.

At Christmas
The giving, whilst enjoyable, is pretty trivial
In life the giving of ourselves
is vital
it is entire
it is necessary.
It is risky....certainly
It is demanding...that's for sure
But it is the only way to go.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Making room

There is a lot of scripture that we can read to enliven Christmas Day: Luke 2:1-14, Luke 2:8-20, John 1:1-14, Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 62:6-12; & Isaiah 52:7-10 are some of the lections set for that day

We are fortunate to have a new Bishop in our diocese, Jeff Driver
We have high hopes;
and in this "honeymoon period" we are listening carefully
to what he has to say to us.

When he was intsalled he asked us, the people of a very sad, and possibly sick, Diocese:
Do you want to be healed?
This is an important question
and one we need to ask ourselves properly.

Yet, I hear him saying about Christmas
Can we "make room for Jesus"?
This, too, is a good question.
It is one of the threads of mystery and poetry
that runs through the birth narratives.
We all know well the room at the inn.
This casual observation is also a hint at the real human problem
No room for Jesus in our lives.
Archbishop Jeffrey will no doubt be asking we want to make room for Jesus?
What does such a question mean?
We could suggest that the question has three focusses:

1.Making room for the God of hope
2. Making room for the Gof peace
3. Making room for the God of love.

Of hope

Because at Christmas we hear a story about a baby
and babies' lives are filled with hope.
They are about what is yet to happen,
the promise that is to come.
We understand this pretty well,
when we visit a newborn
our words to that baby,
are strong and hopeful
...he looks like a footballer,
she has strong lungs
what a fine head of hair
As they grow
the hopes become more substantial, and complex
as children become adults we see that there is hope for independence
that there is great potential
that there is uniqueness.
We muck this up quite a lot
but at Christmas we need to take time to realise
that this struggle to make all this work
is what God intends for us.

It is how we become what God intends us to be.
So I say to you
encourage the hope in your children.
ENCOURAGE do not criticise
but rather voice the hope and offer the support
that babies demand and deserve.
When Jesus is born as a baby this is one of the things that God is showing us.
Fulfillment, maturity, growth
are like the growth of a baby
are what God intends life to be like.

Of peace
For most of us Christmas is stressful
as well as joyful
for the lonely and the sad
it can be incredibly depressing.
We love the closeness that it means to family and friends
yet it also exposes
the very lack of peace that the season proclaims.
We are more conscious of soldiers in Iraq
of difficult community tensions
of family pressures.
Peace demands that we address these issues
and Christmas is for us a sign that what we articulate today
needs to pass into reality in our day to day lives.
We can easily say "no racial prejudice", "no war",
on Christmas Day
but we need also to put it into practice from day to day.
Peace will mean simple day to day application
of forgiveness
at home
at work
at school.
Do you want peace, Jeff might say,
then practise it.

Of love
It is a commonplace to say that Christmas is about love.
The carols say it.
Love came down at Christmas.
We are at our most vulnerable in the face of a baby.
We are disarmed, most of us,
and just want to hold it and love it.
Even arrogant and tough young men
have been known to melt.
Do you want to love?
then love,
do you want to be loved
then allow yourself to be vulnerable?

There is much, much more that could be said.
If we want to know what Christmas is about.
Look not at Santa.
look at the baby.
Make room for him
in your life.
It may be that you cannot
put him at the centre
but is there a stable somewhere in your life.

Do you want Christ?
The he is yours.
The bringer of hope, of peace and love

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Finding a place for the baby

Readings for the last Sunday in Advent. Sunday 18th December 2Sam 7:1-11, 16, Magnificat, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

As we experience a lot of Christmas input at this time
One good question I heard asked about various school and church presentations was:
Why all these stories and plays with a Christmas theme
What's wrong with the story of the stable at Bethlehem.........?

There are of course many representations of that story
and it is rich in symbolism, myth (in the finest sense of that word) and cultural nuance
When in doubt we should allow God's Word of Scripture to do its wonderful work in our hearts
So take time this week to read the readings and just to allow them to speak to you.
As you sit through the endless Carol Services take time too to be a little more open
remember, as we see in this weeks readings, that Christmas is God showing himself to us in human form.
It is about understanding who God is,
and what God is about.
So we find that Mary, when confronted by the angel
has to begin on a journey of discovery
because she does not understand what all this might mean
"29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be"
And Paul tells us at the end of Romans as we read today
"the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith"
The sort of message, that so puzzles Mary,
is God revealing in Jesus
what has been true for all time.
This is the overarching message of the Christmas story.
God is revealed to us
in the person of Jesus Christ
he is, what controversialist, John AT Robinson describes
as The Human Face of God
This is a description I find really helpful.
God cannot be described...he is indeed
"the mystery that was kept secret"
our philosophy, our history, even our theology
does not come close to fully disclosing who God is
if we want to know what God is like
then the fullest revelation is
So what do we see
We find at Christmas a deeply confronting story.
God chooses a young girl
about whom we know remarkably little,
in the short passage of this morning's Gospel
we know more about Joseph
....a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David
than we do about Mary herself
we know more about Zechariah and Elizabeth
than we do about their cousin:
he belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
What does this tell us?
At the very least
we are reminded that
God views people differently from the way we do.
We make different choices
about what is important
so we look for wealth, success, power and prestige
..God looks differently.
There is an invitation here
in the Christmas story
to look with different eyes
at the world in which we live.
In the reading from the Hebrew bible too,
we read of David's desire to build a Temple.
This seems like a righteous desire,
a good thing,
but it is not what God wants.
We do not always get it right,
we are often fixated on the material when God is inviting us
to look deeper.
These are two modest insights
that we get from addressing the stories of the Bible
rather than sidetracking it.
Making room
Part of the frustration for us at Christmas
is finding Jesus
amidst it all.
Let us not so much complain
about what Woolworths and Target do,
let us rather see the challenge
to point ourselves and others
to Jesus.
Ask tricky intelligent questions
of your youngsters:
Why did God come as a baby?
What is he trying to tell us by being born in a stable?
Why did the shepherds and the wise men come? and what do you think they said to Mary and Joseph?
What would we say to them?
If we get that close then we have done very well indeed!
What would we say to Mary and Joseph?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Life in Christ

Readings for Advent 3 Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 126, I Thess 5:12-28; John 1:6-28

What is your lifestyle choice? This is something of a modern question.
Today's readings invite us to identify our lifestyle
as Christian

How do you live faithfully as a modern Christian day to day?
Once again we have a pattern for faithful living
in each of the three readings.
What is striking
is that "faithful living"
is not lived out in a vacuum,
but rather is the act of living vigorously and actively
in this world in which we find ourselves.
Though many religious words are used,
the emphasis of the passages
is not on the narrowly pietistic
it is on the dynamically active
a life lived
in full communion with God
and totally engaged with human life.
Fully in communion with God,
totally engaged with human life.
These themes flow through all the readings
but in this reflection I will focus on the reading from 1Thessalonians
6Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets,but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil.

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24

The call to worship
I am struck always when I read this passage of its absolute nature..."always" & "in all circumstances" & "without ceasing"
Paul anticipates here that worship will not be an occasional, Sunday-only, type of activity
It will be all of life.
Two points can be made about this.
One, we need to get down and do it!!!
Developing discipline, and life-patterns means that we need to commit ourselves
to action.
We need to do it.
So find the place and start.
Pray daily, for your family, for yourself
for your concerns.
Decide that this is a life-habit
that you are going to commit to and do it.
Try, too, to seize the opportunity to turn your day to day activities
into deliberate, unobtrusive prayer.
Some years ago I was asked by a woman
who was very upset about blasphemy
"What do you do you when people punctuate there speechg with "Jesus!", this and "Jesus" that!"
My response was that I try and use this as an opportunity to pray.
It's not always easy.
We can find our own little ways to be more attentive to the need to pray constantly.
One of the great benefits of afternoon and evening walks is that we can use the opportunity
to give thanks to God for our local environment
and to pray for our neighbours.
This may not work for you....but find something that turns your heart to God
is a GOOD thing
and we will reap benefits.
The great traditions of meditation call us to "mindfulness"
not just allowing our day to day experiences
to go to waste
While we might take this to mean that we "should take time to smell the flowers"
and we should
it also means that we should treasure our daily emotional and spiritual experiences.
How often do we have ups and downs...and simply not do anything about them
other than fret!!!
Take time to debrief yourself
and commit to God

The call to discernment
Life is hard work!
And Christians are called to live with a sense of what is true
rather than what is wishful.
Our life is about faith and not fairy story.
We are called to live as God wants
not as we often vainly wish we would liem God to operate.
If I can give you an example.
Problems are very much part of what people pray for,
I, and no doubt you, are constantly asked to pray that God
might act in certain ways....
whether it may be to heal, or to address a debt crisis,
...I sometimes get emails with things like ..."Pray that God might make my husband come back to me"
These worry me a little.
One thing I do know, both from the scriptures
and from my life as a Christian
is that God deals with problems!
But it doesn't seem to me that God makes problems vanish,
most often we are invited to have faith in God's grace,
to trust that God will be faityhful.
God most often shows us the way through issues,
and with me.
He enables us to work through the awful stuff
He does not simply make it vanish.
One of the problems with this
is that we so often want God to be the Good Fairy
rather than the Almighty God.
The true prophets will call us to life of vigour and discipline
the true gospel will call us to service and sacrifice.
Paul reminds us that we should test the gospel
and live faithful to the Spirit of God

The call to holiness

Life is a call to holiness
--a much maligned word--
Paul understands it to mean
this active life of prayer and worship
which is engaged with the world,
not some 'pie in the sky' unreality.
It is not a series of "do's and don'ts"
but rather a lifestyle
characterised by this dynamic attitude
of orientation to the worship and praise of God
in which we seek to be 100%
focussed on God
and committed to the realisation
of God's destiny in our lives.
A destiny which far from being focussed on narrow religious goals
will be sharply honed in responding to the needs of the sad, the demoralised,
the outcast

to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2to proclaim the year of the L
ORD’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Isaiah 61:1-2

...This is our eternal destiny
our Christian lifestyle

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Making space! -To Trust

Readings for Advent 2 Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85, 2 Pet 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

I trust that you are all making progress with your Christmas presents.
I put to my children in the last few days
an idea that came out of the Christmas Bowl material
Let's give each other presents of about $5-$10
and then each give $20 to another cause.
They looked aghast...well if not aghast then askance!
Another hair-brained, unrealistic idea of that priest
we are (un)fortunate enough to have as a father.
The youngest one gets it...
...enraptured with caring for a girl in Tanzania
through a school project
it is easy to get her to understand
that $10 spent on her
---another Barby, a fluffy pen, cheeky knickers....or whatever
is here today and gone tomorrow!
But for the little Tanzanian girl
it can do so much more.
She was taken by the notion
that in Africa the wealthy send their children
to Europe as soon as they can
and so there is a "brain drain"
I am impressed that a 12 year old
can get this concept.
She understands that by supporting strong education
in Tanzania
then most people will stay if they can.
This stuff is fairly self-evident
if and when you think about it!

Comfort and Trust
Today we are invited by the Christmas Bowl
to reflect on the theme of Trust.
There is presented for us
and image of a God who we can trust
Amidst all our troubles and difficulties
and no one escapes this...
we trust that God will care for us and sustain us.
The readings tell us that God will
Bring us back...we can trust God to restore us
that God is ...patient with us
we often think God is slow
but God is patient
That God will empower us with the Holy Spirit
Even John says, don't be like me
rather open yourself to the one who comes after
and he will pour out his Holy Spirit on you..

These are promises in which we are invited to trust.
  • God cares for us
  • God is patient with us
  • God empowers us

In our life
I hope that you might see here
that what is being offered is a chance to be real and genuine.
It is not unlike getting the Christmas present idea right.
There is nothing wrong with presents
there is an issue about proportion, and
about what is important.
We can trust God to give us the right gifts,
but can we trust ourselves!
Can the world trust us to deliver
on God's behalf
or have we been distracted by the trivial, the unimportant?
God cares for us and bring us home how do we care for others
and restore them
How do we act as agents of reconciliation
and bringers of peace?
God is patient with us have we given up on people,
have we stopped talking to someone who has hurt us
or have we settled for second-best in our relationships
God empowers us has our relationship with God
gone stale
do we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit
do we pray with vigour and with power
We can trust God
and we need to be trusted as God agents.