Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas greetings

The chances are I won't blog again until next week.

So may I take this chance of wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

I hope you get a chance not only to reflect on the Christmas story but to meet its central character. The wonder of Christmas is that God's word became flesh and moved into our neighbourhood so we could talk face-to-face.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Best of 2005

Christmas is the time of year when newspapers and magazines pick their best of the year - books, music, movies.

I always scan the lists for confirmation of my taste. I notice that I have five of the Word's top ten albums of the year and five of Q's - though they're a slightly different five.

The albums I've bought this year that I'm still listening to on a regular basis are Kaiser Chiefs, Coldplay, Gorllaz, Hard Fi, Arcade Fire, Dylan's No Direction Home, the Magic Numbers, the Blind Boys of Alabama with Roy Harper (or is that the other way round?) and Neil Young. These are all really fine pieces of work.

My top three albums of the year, however, are Eels Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, Elbow's Leaders of the Free World and Kate Bush's Aerial - these three are head and shoulders above the rest for originality, lyrical power and musical beauty. Each in their own way show that pop music can deal with profound and grown up issues and cast a new light of life's struggles and joys.

If you're still compiling Christmas lists, put these albums on them - you won't be disappointed

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Is there anything new in the Christmas story?

Sometimes as I'm preparing for Christmas, I begin to wonder whether I've already said this. Didn't I take this angle last year, I ask myself; haven't I adopted this approach before? Sometimes it's hard to see anything new in the Christmas story and what should be the most exciting of stories becomes stale and samey.

Well, I've had one of those days - and then suddenly, an epiphany (which is appropriate given the season!)

I'm writing my script which retells the Christmas story as it actually happened (according to Matthew and Luke) in the order it happened taking due note of the passing of time and it hits me.

I ought to fill in the context, I guess. Following on from Kenneth Bailey - that great New Testament scholar who's lived most of his life in the Middle east - I believe that when Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem they would have stayed with a cousin of Joseph. He would have had relatives there as it's his ancestral home and it would have been unthinkable that one of those relatives would not have made room for Joseph and his wife-to-be

(on a technical note: there probably would not have been a commercial inn in Bethlehem. They tended to be at the mid-way points on roads between trading centres. And the word translated 'inn' in Luke 2:7 means guest room - it's the word used in Luke 22:11 for the 'upper room' where he celebrated his last supper with his friends. Where Luke speaks of a commercial inn - as he does in the parable of the good Samaritan - he uses a different word altogether.)

When Mary went into labour - some time after arriving in Bethlehem - the guest room was full of people. There was no privacy for her to deliver her baby. So she went into the section of the house downstairs where the owners would keep their animals at night. It was warm, dry and there was an ideal cot for the baby! There she could go with the women who'd be on hand to assist and deliver her baby in relative privacy - at least away from the prying eyes of men!

The shepherds are summoned to the house that Jesus was born in by angels. They come. They see. They worship. They start telling people in the house what the angel told them. And suddenly I'm thinking this is probably the first time that half Joseph's family will have heard this. I wonder what they make of it? I wonder how long it is before the whole street knows?

Something as ordinary and everyday as the birth of a baby is suddenly an extraordinary, once-in-history event: God's anointed saviour is arriving in the world. The one who will reverse the effects of the Fall, defeat death, satan and all forces of darkness and evil has been born in the Bethlehem equivalent of a suburban semi.

God comes right under the noses of people - and they don't think anything of it until shepherds who'd been sent by angels - angels who didn't appear to anyone in the house or street where Jesus was born - turn up and spill the beans. It's amazing.

I love Christmas. I never fail to see something new in the story. This is the lynch-pin of history, the night when God came to set things right. And no matter how often I read it, it still blows me away.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas stuffing

It's been busy - hence the lack of blogging this month. Christmas is jammed full of stuff - planning services, visiting people, sorting out things that'll have to happen early in the New Year, shopping, writing Christmas cards, etc

In the middle of all that we've been doing a short Advent series on Jesus @ the movies. We reflected on grace and vocation through Babette's Feast and we looked at whether there were tips on movie watching from Paul's visit to Athens (Acts 17:16-34), while taking in material from Pay it Forward and X Men 2. It's been fascinating.

One thing it's confirmed is that this way of doing theology has a lot to do with age, temperament and upbringing. There are people in my church who think we've nothing to learn from the movies and indeed never visit cinemas, while there are others who try to watch a film a week and who reflect on what those films are saying about God, us and the meaning of life.

A number of things have struck me from all this. One is the number of Hollywood people who are committed Christians. I was particularly struck by the fact that Scott Derrickson, writer and director of the Exorcism of Emily Rose - a film I haven't seen - is a committed Christian, a graduate of Biola University and he has some fascinating things to say about Christians and horror movies.

I guess the main thing that doing this brief series has reinforced to me is that God is concerned about what's happening in the world beyond the Christian ghetto and that he wants his people out there mixing it with people who hold all kinds of views about life. That's what Paul did in Athens - he walked the streets, read the history, got into the poets and philosophers and engaged in debate and discussion.

There's a such a contrast between Paul and so many of us. We're not interested in dialoguing with the world. We seek a monologue - where we speak and the world listens. We don't know enough about what our neighbours are thinking and saying to be able to engage in a conversation with them about things that concern them.

Hollywood composer Barry Taylor reminds us that there's a great debate happening across America - and I guess across the UK too - concerning God. But the church isn't involved because it's happening in movies theatres and by and large we don't go there. That's a pity because Paul would.