Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Yet Another 12 Blogs of Christmas #10: Tracking Christmas without the aid of NORAD

This is an adaptation of a post I wrote back in 2006. Can’t believe this blog has been going so long…

The story goes that, in 1955, a US department store set up a phoneline for children to call Santa. Unfortunately, there was a misprint in the adverts, an incorrect digit in the phone number that lead to a bunch of kids inadvertently calling the Continental Air Defense Command (now NORAD) asking how long it would be before they received their presents. Colonel Harry Shoup, having the presence of mind to realise what was happening, told those calling that no, he wasn’t Santa, but he knew where Santa was. And so NORAD’s tradition of tracking Santa was born, although nowadays it uses satellites, computer generated imagery and CF-18 fighter jets. Key to it all is Rudolph’s nose; it apparently gives off a heat signature similar to a guided missile. You can watch his progress around the world, including the sleigh buzzing the International Space Station. Which is pretty cool when you think about it.

Of course, we don’t all have the resources of the US military to track Christmas. It’s strange though, it shouldn’t be hard to find – my street is probably channelling enough electricity to power NASA for a month, and the shops have been crazy and claustrophobic, and everyone’s credit cards have taken a hammering. Tracking Christmas should be a doddle, after all, there’s about forty special editions of Emmerdale being broadcast over the next few days. You’d think the whole thing would be on the radar, but no, it’s just Santa (who heading towards Valmiera in Latvia, by the way).

At its heart, at least in the Christian sense of the festival, Christmas is all about God becoming man, showing the world what it’s like when God has physical hands and feet and a voice; Incarnation with a capital I, God entering into time and space and living life as a human being, and Bethlehem is where it starts, where we start tracking Christmas. It flies off beyond that; into Boxing Day and the leftover turkey, into the New Year and all the resolutions we don’t keep. The story of Jesus starts 2000 years ago, and the whole thing still has ramifications for today. Maybe you believe that. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. Maybe it’s all of those, depending on what day of the week it is. For my part, I do believe that what happened in Bethlehem echoes down the ages, still has something to say to us among the iPods and the speed cameras and the multiple episodes of doom-laden Eastenders.

The problem, though, is seeing it. There’s a U2 song that goes “Hear it every Christmas time/But hope and history don’t rhyme/So what’s it worth?/This peace on Earth?” And there’s something to that; the world’s a mess, and it’s easy to write off Christmas as a nice little fairy story about a baby and shepherds and angels and donkeys and wise men. Maybe that would be an easier approach to take.

But that’s all window dressing; while I’m not saying it’s unimportant, it’s less important than the underlying theology of it – God becoming flesh, God moving into the neighbourhood. How does that work? Miracle of the virgin birth? That’s easy, the miraculous is simple, the idea of Incarnation – now that’s difficult.

Because that’s how God works – through incarnation. And it’s a plan that lies open to accusations of cop out or inefficiency or hypocrisy, but there it is. We should be able to track the Story throughout the year, throughout history, follow its footprints, trace its heat signature. But mostly we track it in a darker sense, in the tension between what God inaugurates at Christmas and what we actually see on the news, and part of that tension is due to the fact that God chooses to work through us, messed up and messy individuals. We have access to the Godhead, all that power, and yet, quite often, we suck.

So maybe that’s got to be a resolution for 2012 – for me personally, certainly. I want to be able to track Christmas throughout the year because I can see its traces everywhere I look, glowing in the night, pinprick candlelight in dark places. I want to be able to see the Incarnation because it makes a difference in my life, not in terms of religion, the world doesn’t need more religion, but because it’s about how God’s at work, about how the story of Jesus actually matters, even when we think we’re too advanced and intellectual and ironic to hear it. And I want to track the story when it intersects with the story of Easter, which is later in the year but fundamentally linked, bookends to a life that is all about Incarnation. Christmas matters. Because it’s all about hope and forgiveness and second chances. And that’s intense.

I’ve rambled. I’m tired and I want to get some sleep, because tomorrow’s Christmas Day and it’s important. But it’s not just tomorrow. It’s Boxing Day, and it’s 2012, and it’s all the days and months and years to come. And while NORAD will lose sight of Santa in a few hours, we still need to track the story.

Happy Christmas. Have a rocking New Year. And let’s see what cool stuff the next twelve months have in store.

Yet Another 12 Blogs of Christmas #5: While shepherds watched…

Yeah, about those shepherds

The nativity scene has become sanitised over the centuries; the stable is clean, the livestock obedient, Mary looks very chilled for a woman who’s just given birth… It’s all very nice and pretty and suitable for children to reenact.

Only that’s not the case. Because this quiet, peaceful, star-bathed scene was, in reality, a gathering of outsiders. That’s hard to comprehend, what with ‘Christian values’ disingenously being used as shorthand for ‘establishment’ (well, the bits that don’t cover grace, compassion and concern for the poor, hint hint.), but all those people in that Christmas card scene were on the margins (with the exception of Jesus, of course, possible exception of Joseph, depending on how generous people would have been). Well, maybe not the donkey.

So the shepherds? Losers. Thieves. Liars. The lowest of the economic low. You want to announce the birth of the Son of God? Shepherds wouldn’t have been top of your list. Sure, some of Israel’s greatest heroes had been shepherds (Moses, David, Jacob), but somewhere along the line the profession had fallen out of favour. And yet there they are, peering into the manger, looking at the king.

Then there are the wise men. Over the years they mutated into kings, maybe because that’s more respectable than the truth – they were a different nationality to everyone else in that stable, different religion. They don’t know this society, because they accidentally throw a match into a political tinderbox which ultimately costs lives. They’re rich, they’re learned, but they’re still on the outside looking in.

Then there’s Mary. A teenage girl, pregnant under mysterious circumstances. She swears the baby isn’t Joseph’s, but you know what village gossip is like. Did people think Joseph had been getting frisky out of wedlock? Or did people just think he was a sucker, sticking with someone who’d apparently cheated on him? Despite the truth being greater and more profound than parochial imaginations, you can’t stop tittle-tattle.

All this is why any attempt to cite Christian values as a sop to middle class respectability is doomed to failure. Because one of the primary Christian values is grace, and that’s often found among the outsiders, the marginalised. It defies the concept of a meritocracy – the lives of those on the fringes of society can be divinely transformed, not through hard work, not through social control, but through God reaching out, becoming a part of his world and incarnating not in palaces or vicarages but in a stable and, ultimately, on a cross. In a word, grace.

And grace, to quote U2, makes beauty out of ugly things.

Yet Another 12 Blogs of Christmas #3: World Vision Post

Because I’m a day behind on my Twelve Blogs of Christmas, I thought I’d cheat and repost an earlier article. World Vision have recently launched their Twelve Blogs of Christmas project, during which their core group of bloggers will be reflecting on the spirit of Christmas, with other bloggers contributing through their own sites. Well, my entry is reposted below, and a fine range of ethical Christmas gifts are available at World Vision’s catalogue

“Isn’t it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for – I don’t know what exactly, but it’s something that you don’t mind so much not having at other times.” That’s a line from Kate L. Bosher; I have to admit I don’t know who that is, and thirty seconds googling didn’t help much either, but she’s right. For a season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, the days around December 25th always seem to be surrounded by a strange sense of melancholy; a melancholy dancing with hope and joy, maybe, but melancholy nonetheless. Or maybe it’s just me and my fondness for Christmas songs that don’t feel like Christmas songs – Fairytale of New York, of course, and the image I’m trying to convey was done far better in the video for It’s Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas.

There’s a streak of – sadness? darkness? – running through the Christmas story from the start. Teenage girl finds out she’s pregnant outside of wedlock, and despite it being extenuating circumstances, her husband-to-be is on the verge of divorcing her quietly until he undergoes a religious experience that makes him stick with her, thus potentially putting both their reputations in the toilet. The baby’s born in exactly the wrong place. They’re visited by shepherds, who at the time were considered to be liars and thieves and generally disreputable. Later on they get visited by a bunch of astrologers from another country, who screw everything up by alerting a mad bad king to the existence of a child who’s a political threat. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are forced to become asylum seekers in Egypt, while the king decides to get rid of the perceived threat by killing a town-full of innocent children. Lose the tea towels and the cardboard crowns and it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs.

At its heart, at least in the Christian sense of the festival, Christmas is all about God becoming man, showing the world what it’s like when God has physical hands and feet and a voice; Incarnation with a capital I, God entering into time and space and living life as a human being, and Bethlehem is where it starts. And those difficult parts of the Christmas story? The Incarnation gives them weight, because it puts God alongside us rather than sitting on a cloud waiting to dish out a smiting or two. Now, maybe you believe that. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. Maybe it’s all of those, depending on what day of the week it is. For my part, I do believe that what happened in Bethlehem echoes down the ages, still has something to say to us among the iPods and the protests.

The spirit behind the Christmas story – and Easter as well, because these two festivals are the bookends of a glorious story – is that a divine being becomes human, and gets caught up in all the hurt and dirt and suffering and joy and beauty of human existence – Immanuel, God with us, it’s in all the carols if you look for it. That’s why the story of the baby in the manger somehow resonates with the scuzzier lyrics of Fairytale. Sometimes life sucks, but sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes, especially at Christmas, it somehow manages to be both at once. It’s a hug of a season, even if you’re not sure if that hug is happy or sad. And that’s why I love Christmas, and hopefully always will.

Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

Well, Rowan Williams reckons he would, and who am I to argue with the Archbishop of Canterbury? Over the last few months, the Occupy movement has, perhaps inadvertantly, raised issues of how the church should engage with the protests. That’s particularly true of Occupy London, who are camped outside St. Pauls and who have pushed this whole debate into the public eye.

But I don’t think it’s as easy as saying Jesus would set himself up in a tent and attend workshops. He’d spend time there, sure, but I think he’d also spend a lot of time in the poverty-ridden estates that prompted the London Riots earlier this year. That’s the thing with Jesus – he never worked to the script, and deliberately went to places that the authority figures of his time had condemned. His concern for the poor, and the sick, and the outcast, led to direct action, no matter the cost to his reputation. Many will say the church shouldn’t be involved with politics – well, I’m not convinced that’s true. The church should be involved with people, and as the very word ‘politics’ means ‘relating to citizens’, it’s hard for the church not to get involved if it’s going to carry out its mission. Feeding the homeless, visiting prisoners, supporting the oppressed… These automatically become political statements.

But that works two ways, and if we’re looking at who Jesus would hang out with, then sorry but the 99% have to accept the fact he’d probably be going to meals with corrupt bankers – Zacchaeus may have been a very little man, but he was also a dodgy tax collector. And yet, through an encounter with Christ, he repented and made restitution for his past crimes. A Christian response to all this has to include the possibility – indeed the impetus – for redemption. I know I’ve expressed concerns about the 1%/99% dichotomy that’s becoming the slogan of the year, but I don’t believe for a second that Jesus would be demonising bankers – their actions, yes, but one of Jesus’s main themes was restoration – resurrection even.

(I also bet he wouldn’t surround an undercover police officer whilst chanting “scum”. Because he understood the importance of non-violence, and that the concept of non-violence extends to language as well.)

So let’s not kid ourselves, Jesus would probably end up provoking both the Daily Mail and the Guardian to eye-popping fury. In a polarised world, that might well be a good thing, and it acts as a warning against trying to co-opt Jesus – to paraphrase an internet meme, in Christianity, Jesus occupy you

 

 

The Twelve Blogs Of Christmas (for World Vision)

World Vision have recently launched their Twelve Blogs of Christmas project, during which their core group of bloggers will be reflecting on the spirit of Christmas, with other bloggers contributing through their own sites. Well, my entry is below, and a fine range of ethical Christmas gifts are available at World Vision’s catalogue

 

 “Isn’t it funny that at Christmas something in you gets so lonely for – I don’t know what exactly, but it’s something that you don’t mind so much not having at other times.” That’s a line from Kate L. Bosher; I have to admit I don’t know who that is, and thirty seconds googling didn’t help much either, but she’s right. For a season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, the days around December 25th always seem to be surrounded by a strange sense of melancholy; a melancholy dancing with hope and joy, maybe, but melancholy nonetheless. Or maybe it’s just me and my fondness for Christmas songs that don’t feel like Christmas songs – Fairytale of New York, of course, and the image I’m trying to convey was done far better in the video for It’s Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas.

There’s a streak of – sadness? darkness? – running through the Christmas story from the start. Teenage girl finds out she’s pregnant outside of wedlock, and despite it being extenuating circumstances, her husband-to-be is on the verge of divorcing her quietly until he undergoes a religious experience that makes him stick with her, thus potentially putting both their reputations in the toilet. The baby’s born in exactly the wrong place. They’re visited by shepherds, who at the time were considered to be liars and thieves and generally disreputable. Later on they get visited by a bunch of astrologers from another country, who screw everything up by alerting a mad bad king to the existence of a child who’s a political threat. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are forced to become asylum seekers in Egypt, while the king decides to get rid of the perceived threat by killing a town-full of innocent children. Lose the tea towels and the cardboard crowns and it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs.

At its heart, at least in the Christian sense of the festival, Christmas is all about God becoming man, showing the world what it’s like when God has physical hands and feet and a voice; Incarnation with a capital I, God entering into time and space and living life as a human being, and Bethlehem is where it starts. And those difficult parts of the Christmas story? The Incarnation gives them weight, because it puts God alongside us rather than sitting on a cloud waiting to dish out a smiting or two. Now, maybe you believe that. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. Maybe it’s all of those, depending on what day of the week it is. For my part, I do believe that what happened in Bethlehem echoes down the ages, still has something to say to us among the iPods and the protests.

The spirit behind the Christmas story – and Easter as well, because these two festivals are the bookends of a glorious story – is that a divine being becomes human, and gets caught up in all the hurt and dirt and suffering and joy and beauty of human existence – Immanuel, God with us, it’s in all the carols if you look for it. That’s why the story of the baby in the manger somehow resonates with the scuzzier lyrics of Fairytale. Sometimes life sucks, but sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes, especially at Christmas, it somehow manages to be both at once. It’s a hug of a season, even if you’re not sure if that hug is happy or sad. And that’s why I love Christmas, and hopefully always will.