A perfect scene

I am sure that many of you will shortly be writing Christmas cards to various friends and family members. Despite the proliferation of social media and other electronic forms of communication these are not as tangible ways of sending seasonal greetings as physical Christmas cards. The tradition in our home is to staple strings of cards together and then hang them on the walls of our lounge and dining room.

I wonder what kind of cards you like to choose: modern or traditional, comic scenes or wintry landscapes? Many cards seem to bear little real connection with Christmas at all. Politicians and celebrities send photographs of their families, others wishing to avoid causing offence choose the greeting “Happy Winter Holiday” or similar. My personal preference is to send cards that depict some aspect of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Yet even here myth and reality often collide as, in attempting to recreate the perfect Christmas scene, artists get their chronology mixed up. Perhaps worse still, the nativity is depicted in an idealised and somewhat romantic manner. The truth is that the birth of Christ was noisy and messy, the same as the birth of any other human being. The stable where he was born was a working stable, full of the sounds and smells of the farmyard, hardly a hygienic place for a baby to be born! A modern Christmas Carol more accurately captures the atmosphere with line: “From the squalor of a borrowed stable.”

Yet this realisation, far from demeaning the nativity, actually provokes even greater wonder. Paul wrote “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men”. The squalid circumstances of Jesus’ birth serve to highlight lengths to which he was willing to go to rescue us. Paul goes on to state “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” So we move from a squalid scene to one that to our eyes seems gruesome.

If we sanitise either of these two events then we rob them of their power. Ugly though they may be, the truth is that they are both perfect scenes because they are essential to God’s great plan for redemption. Whenever you see a depiction of the nativity scene this Christmas I would urge you to look deeper and discover the joy that comes from discovering the real Jesus that so often gets obscured by fluffy lambs and cute donkeys. You are invited to come and join us at one of the Christmas services arranged by the various churches in Hook and discover the real meaning of Jesus birth.

This blog post featured in the December 2013 edition of Hook Focus

In the beginning…

Two books in the bible open with the same three words: ‘In the beginning…’ Since the dawn of civilisation mankind has been fascinated by the origins of the universe and every culture has it’s own stories of how all that we see around us, even humanity itself, has come into being. As followers of Christ we have a unique insight into the beginning. It can be summed up succinctly in the first four words of Genesis: ‘In the beginning God!’ At first sight it seems that this is a cosmological statement, providing us with information to satisfy our scientific curiosity. High emotions and much ink have been spent between believers attempting to reconcile ‘science and the bible’. That is to miss the point. The statement ‘In the beginning God!’ is primarily a theological statement about causes and purposes rather than systems and processes.

This becomes clearer at the opening of John’s gospel where we read: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

These verses are part of the prologue to John’s gospel where we encounter Jesus. Necessarily the Jesus we read about in the gospels is a man, flesh and blood. John however wants us to understand that Jesus was not simply a man he existed before the beginning of time, more than that; he was active with God in the work of creation. In Genesis creation is the result of the spoken word of God. In John’s prologue Jesus is the Word of God. This is a profound theological statement because it reveals to us that Jesus is God!

As we enter this Christmas season, get wrapped up in the festivities, and watch re-enactments of the nativity we can lose sight of this mind blowing truth: Jesus existed long before he appeared as a baby laid in a manger. All things were made through him and he is the source of life itself. So when you hear the words ‘In the beginning was the Word’ read out at a Carol Service this Christmas allow yourself to be awestruck that in Jesus we are encountering God himself.


This blog post featured in the December 2013 edition of Lifelines