Monday, December 24, 2012

While Shepherds Watched...

'While shepherds watched their flocks by night...' - a familiar line from an even more familiar carol - puts me in mind of my visits to the Shepherds' Fields just outside Bethlehem.  There the tat and tinsel of typical Christmas scenes faded as we stepped out of the coach to gaze across the barren hillside towards the outline of the little town of Bethlehem. There was just a cave nearby and a few straggly sheep to mark the scene but it was possible there to imagine that first Christmas night.

As a shepherd myself - for that is what the word 'Pastor' means - I am glad that God chose to send the angels to a group of middle-Eastern shepherds then.  Like pastors today, shepherds in Israel did not hold a high place in society.  They were not really respected or trusted in the wider community and practiced their profession largely away from the crowd. Yet they performed a vital role and especially so in the Christmas story.  For it is likely that these shepherds were looking after the sacrificial flocks for the Temple in Jerusalem. They were preparing lambs for the slaughter. And that is the real reason why God's Son was coming into the world, as over the manger hung the shadow of a cross. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord".

I took this photo of a shepherd in Israel in Dec 2011
Diane and I wish you a very happy Christmas.  May God bless you and your family this special season and beyond.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Tragedies

Christmas is often marred by tragedy.  Just as in the tragic community in Connecticut where terrible shootings have taken place, Christmas decorations seem out of place when such a thing has occurred. I well remember the Penlee lifeboat disaster that occurred on the 19th of December 1981 off the coast of Cornwall, in EnglandUK. The Penlee Lifeboat went to the aid of the coaster Union Star after its engines failed in heavy seas. After the lifeboat had managed to rescue four people both vessels were lost with all hands; sixteen people died including eight volunteer lifeboatmen. Like the parents of the children shot down in their Newtown primary class, the families of these brave men must have felt like cancelling Christmas that year.

The rosy-eyed nostalgia with which we recall this season in the year has no real basis in Scripture.  The first Noel sounded out in a land occupied by enemy soldiers where blood flowed freely in the streets.  Political discussion was outlawed then and dissent was suppressed violently.  To cap it all, when the visitors from the East had reported their venture to King Herod and then tricked him by going home some other way, the outraged monarch ordered that every baby boy under the age of two be murdered in the vicinity of Bethlehem.  The sobs of the parents and cries of the young must have been very similar to those in Newtown USA in 2012.

No, Christmas is not always merry or bright.  But it is God's response to a broken world.  Into the very midst of evil and suffering he sent his son, so that we would able to come to him in our pain and find one who is 'touched with the feelings of our infirmities'.  Jesus came to a manger not a throne or a palace.  He came to a tragic scene not a Christmas card montage.  He came to save and heal, not to entertain or institute an annual festival.  Above all, he came because he cares - and the dear folk in Newtown are going to need that care as much as anyone in First Century Galilee.  So are we.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Advent or Madvent - take your pick!

Advent or Madvent - which is it for you? 

  • Advent is that special season of the year when we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  
  • Madvent is the period before December the 25th when the western world seems to go crazy!  Grown men sport Father Christmas pixie hats and otherwise mature women don antlers.  Children bay like banshees to be given the latest gadget and then act like hyped up bees whose hive has just been disturbed.  The office party causes adults to say and do things which often embarrass them afterwards and personal debt hits previously unseen peaks of snow-covered credit.  And all in the name of Christmas!  Now, I am not being like Scrooge about this - though I doubt if I'll be persuaded to wear antlers myself - but I just pray that our choice will be clear and simple.  As for me and my house - we are going to celebrate Advent, and leave Madvent to others!