Tag Archives: Christmas

So. How was your Christmas?

Mine was pretty much like the rest of this year – an absolute whirlwind of the loosely planned being usurped by the surprising. Though I learned the hard way that if you spend half the day holding small children and hefting a turkey in and out of the oven your arms will ache for atleast a week. Even brushing my hair is a challenge - sorry to anyone who has to be seen with me in public right now.

Christmas Joy: Getting to meet my 6-day old new favourite
Christmas JOY: Surprise visit from my 6-day old new favourite

I must confess, I was not ready for Christmas this year. I don't understand how its come and gone already, I'm still waiting for summer. I was the most Grinch of all the Grinchs and so reflecting on the reason for the season was not forefront of my mind. But what I did realise is that Christmas is all about abiding - Jesus came to abide (live/dwell) with us, so that we could abide (live/dwell) with him.

The birth of Jesus was the beginning of the end of our separation from God. It changed everything. Jesus came to abide (live/dwell) as light in the darkness, offering us hope, peace and joy.

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God was no longer as distant as before. But here. Present. With us. Immanuel.

And just a few short decades later the death and resurrection of Jesus would change it all again. Giving us access to a home we could fully abide (live/dwell) in together. Forever.

But it’s not just for the future, if nothing else, this absolute madness of a year has taught me that abiding is also for right here, right now. This very moment. Here. Present.

Everyday in China I asked God for the grace to make it through just that day. And the next day I asked the same. And the next day the same again. But I think what I didn't have the words to ask for was this:

O Lord. Life passes by swiftly. Events that a few years ago kept me totally preoccupied have now become vague memories; conflicts that a few months ago seemed so crucial in my life now seem futile and hardly worth the energy; inner turmoil that robbed me of sleep only a few weeks ago has now become a strange emotion of the past; books that filled me with amazement a few days ago now do not seem as important; thoughts that kept my mind captive only a few hours ago have now lost their power and have been replaced by others... Why am I continuously trapped in this sense of urgency and emergency? Why do I not see that you are eternal, that your kingdom lasts forever, and that for you a thousand years are like one day? O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, occupations and worries.... Lord teach me your ways and give me the courage to follow them. Amen." Henri Nouwen

This is what abiding this year has looked like - an invitation to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, occupations and worries. To live fully loved, at peace, joyfully, on a foundation of trust.

Is this what I've been doing all year? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha (pauses to breathe and then resumes hysterical laughter) hahahahaha.

No.

I had to go to China and back to figure this out, let me save you the journey and the planet the carbon emissions. Turns out sometimes abiding feels like a picnic in green pastures beside still waters.tanguy-sauvin-3118-unsplash

But also, abiding can feel like being on a rollercoaster, holding on to the edge of your seat, both eagerly anticipating what’s next and dreading it, uncertain whether to laugh/cry/vomit/all three, wondering why you’ve put yourself in that position AGAIN and why no-one told you it was a bad idea, clinging for dear life/faith/sanity onto the knowledge that God is good and God is with you always even if it doesn’t feel like it, and praying it will all end soon so you can get off and return to life on terra firma.

Christmas, a solid reminder than wherever we find ourselves and whatever is going on God abides with us. Our choice is whether we abide with Him at the picnic, the rollercoaster or elsewhere.

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In all this talk about donkeys and babies in a manager I somehow forget that Bethlehem is a real place. Just as real now as it was at the time of Jesus' birth. But for the past few years I've watched this short video and it helps me to remember:

It helps me to remember that there are people in Bethlehem today. People God loves. People Jesus was born to save.
People. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, nieces, nephews, step-families, fiancées, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Babies, children, teenagers and adults. People.
We celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace in a place where, today, people are suffering daily from injustice and conflict. I am so thankful for the promise of the Prince of Peace. It not only gives us hope in a world that can seem so full of conflict and hate but it also gives us hope in taking action, knowing that we live in the tension of the now and not yet.
Advent Words of Hope from the Amos Trust:
Gracious God. In this 50th year of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, we long for a year of Jubilee for Palestine and Israel.
When all the inhabitants of the Holy Land will know liberation and hope.
That the occupation will cease and that there will be a long-term peace.
We long for a time when neighbours will no longer live in fear of one another, and differences will be celebrated.
God of Justice, we ask that equal rights will flourish under just laws that protect all people, so that all who call the Holy Land home will be able to celebrate their freedom and security alongside one another.
Holy God in this the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration:
We lament one hundred years of pain and injustice, in which Palestinians have been devalued and mistreated. We lament our country’s duplicity and double dealing and the failed attempts to bring peace and justice.
We pray that the strength and vision of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists will be renewed and that we will continue to stand with those who have so inspired us.
At this time of Advent, we ask this in the name of the one who is able to lift us from the valley of despair to the bright mountaintop of hope.
We stand this day with those whose freedom is denied.
We stand with those who have fled war, torture and despair.
We come in penance for broken promises and political fixes.
We walk the long road with all those who strive for peace, justice and reconciliation.
We weep with those who long to return to home.
We pray in hope that one day all people in the Holy Land will live in peace, as neighbours with full equal rights.

The people living in darkness have seen a great light. For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Isaiah 9v6-7

Not done your Christmas giving yet?
Rachel to the rescue (you're welcome) -- simply support the Amos Trust's work with local and international peace activists, and partnering with grass-roots projects, to call for a just peace, reconciliation and full equal rights for all who calls the Holy Land home.
Donate here: http://www.amostrust.org/give/amos-palestine/

 

amos_trust_christmas_appeal_2017_2

“My life is in Um al-Khair. It is not an easy life but I cannot leave. Sometimes I have panic attacks because I see my dream broken. I believe, like my father did, that we have the right to live without the constant threat of demolition, to have enough clean water, to have good houses that we can live in during all seasons, and for all of us to live without fear.” Iman, resident of Um al-Khair in the South Hebron Hills. 

Despite home demolitions, ongoing movement restrictions and intolerable living conditions, the people in Gaza and the South Hebron Hills remain steadfast (Sumud), in their hope for freedom, peace and justice and ask for us to stand with them. For those living under a brutal occupying force, it is invaluable. It takes our time, it requires our effort and it needs our financial support now more than ever we need to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
Join me in standing with people like Iman and donate to the Amos Trust here http://www.amostrust.org/give/christmas-appeal-2017/ 
Sumud – 'steadfastness' The Sumud Peace Camp – supporting the community of Um al-Khair in the South Hebron Hills – August 2017. © Amos Trust/Mark Kensett
Sumud – 'steadfastness'
The Sumud Peace Camp – supporting the community of Um al-Khair in the South Hebron Hills – August 2017. © Amos Trust/Mark Kensett


From the archives of Christmas past and remixed for 2017:

I am loving this song right now. Repeat-repeat-repeat. And then repeat some more.

Isaiah 7v14-15

She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel – ‘God is with us.’

Immanuel. It means God is with us. I return to this every Christmas. God is with us.

God is with us through colds, flu, cancer, broken bones, broken hearts, allergic reactions, depression and the everything in-between.

And God is with us in so healthy we tell absolutely everyone about how many days its been since we had a sick day and how much better life is now that we're meat free, gluten free and sugar free.

God is with us through the job that drains your life but doesn't fill your bank account, the job that you can't escape, your annoying colleagues and when we join the many and the humbled of the unemployed.

And God is with us through the much hoped for, much prayed for but now we've got it don't think we're equipped for promotion.

God is with us when we want nothing more than to find a valley, dig a giant hole, stock it full of good snacks and good books and then climb in and hide from the world forever.

And God is with us when we're standing on the mountaintop, basking in the sunlight, taking selfies for the 'gram and admiring the view.

God is with us when we’re o so can't-think-can't-speak-can't-remember-which-day-of-the-week-it-is tired.

And God is with us when we have so much energy we run around and around and around and around and around and around and still have enough energy left to power the most ridiculous pub Christmas lights you've ever seen:

Related image

God is with us in grief, mourning and the breathless heart wrenching pain of making it through just the next second after hope died and all is lost.

And God is with us in joy and celebration so great you find ways to bring it into each and every single conversation regardless of the original topic - so great to hear about your work trip to an oil rig in Norway and how you monitored the levels of Salmon but have I shown you a picture of my baby cousin yet? Isn't he the absolute most cute baby you've ever seen in your whole life? (the correct answer is yes). Did I tell you he can hold his head up now? Did I tell you he can pull my hair now? Did I tell you he can read books? Did I tell you he can count to 105 even though he's only 6 months old? Did I tell you he learnt to walk at just 3 months? Did I tell you he's the youngest baby ever to pass his driving test? Did I tell you? Did I tell you? Did I tell you? Did I?!

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God is with us when we dread the day ahead more than being forced to watch yet another ridiculous Adam Sandler/Ben Stiller/Will Ferrell/other stupid boy film.

And God is with us when we're so excited for tomorrow that we can't even go to sleep and make the day come quicker.

God is with us through how on earth are we going to pay the rent this month.

And God is with us through we just won the lottery and we're taking everyone we know on a round the world adventure for two years, and then we're buying a yacht, and then we're buying a horse, and then we're buying a unicorn.

God is with us through "I said yes!" and the resulting admin.

God is with us through "It's over" and the resulting admin.

God is with us through (insert your situation here).

God is with us, even when it feels like he isn't, through every season and activity under heaven.

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even until the end of the age. Matthew 28v20

I was asked why its so important that God is with us. Its because it means that God cares. God is not aloof, watching the goings on of the world at an indifferent distance, but instead God is there in the midst of the mess with us, constantly cheering us on further in love and holiness, giving us strength to endure and hope, offering us comfort and an invitation to joy - a life and beyond in all its fullness.

From the archives of Christmas past:

So, we're now five days into advent (although I'm already three five nine days into my advent calendar - quit judging, I was hungry yeh). Feeling festive yet?

I wanted to write something poetic about the start of the Season of Goodwill celebrating Christ becoming a Man and all that. I wanted to describe the poignant symbolism and candlemonium (yes it is a real word) of the Christingle service at church. Something about how I love the unity of standing in a circle holding candles stuck in oranges, slowly passing on the flame. Something about how Jesus being the Light of the World by which the darkness is conquered makes so much more sense when the flickering flame of the candle helps you to see your brothers and sisters on the far side of the room. I wanted to segway into a Narnia reference and then end it all with a sweet scripture from one of the prophets about the coming of the King establishing peace and justice.

But I don’t have the words. Instead, you know what They say - when in doubt, C. S. Lewis quote it out...

On the incarnation

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

From Mere Christianity 

Happy Advent y'all.

Christingle service at St Peter's Bethnal Green

I don’t know what to do about the pain.
Not mine.
Theirs'.
The mothers’ - daughters’ - sisters’ - aunts’ - cousins’ - nieces’ - grandmothers’ - friends’ - neighbours’.
I don’t know what to do about the pain.
Not mine.
Theirs’.
The fathers’ - sons’ - brothers’ - uncles’ - cousins’ - nephews’ - grandfathers’ - friends’ - neighbours’.
Aleppo. Yemen. South Sudan... The list goes on.
War. Famine. Destruction. Lines drawn between Us and Them.
I can make donations, right letters, sign petitions, light candles, weep, mourn and go to demonstrations.
But I don’t know what to do about the pain, the grief, the shattered lives and blood soaked clothing.
It is with them every minute. But I can barely read, talk or think about it.
The option to shut out the pain is a privilege.
Today we in church we sang about the baby in the manager, the Prince of Peace.

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Yet peace seems further and farther away.
And though my head knows there is hope in the wiping of every tear and end to death one day, my heart ached with pain of the present.
Despite what the world says, I know You are good.
Despite what the world says, I know that Your heart grieves for every lost life and heart filled with pain.
Despite what the world says you are Emmanuel - God with us. It's your very name.
I know you are Good. I know this is true.
But right now I don't know what to do about the pain.
And so I live in the tension of celebrating joy to a broken world.
So I will continue to pray for your good and perfect will of Love, Justice & Peace  to be done.
I will continue to pray for our world leaders to make wise, compassionate and loving decisions.
I will continue to pray for protection, healing and provision to those living in terror.
I will continue to pray for comfort for those who mourn.
I will continue to pray that we will love and forgive our neighbours.
I will choose to rejoice despite the darkness.

I wrote this a couple of years ago in response to a world that seemed full of violence, hate, pain and death. This has felt like another such a week - hence the remix.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1v5

 

I love to look back on the posts of Christmases past and see what I was thinking this time the previous year, and the year before that, and before that, and even before that... Turns out it often wasn't that much.
But Christmas 2010 is one of my favourites - partly because after writing a post about a Christmas of differences I went on to have the most differently miserable Christmas of my life #karma - shout out to all my MaccyD YWAM survivors.
So, brought back for your reading pleasure, the Christmas of 2010-
Sunday, 19 December 2010 - Season's Greetings!
Hey. Hows your Christmas going so far? Finished your shopping? Been to any carol services? Sent all your Christmas cards? (I’ve massively failed on the Christmas card front this year. Not because I don’t love you and want you to have an unmerry Christmas, but because it’s so expensive to post home. How paper can cost so much to send I’ll never understand).
For me Christmas this year is a bit different. To start with its not cold. In my mind a prerequisite for  Christmas is that it’s a bit cold. It doesn’t have to snow  (it never does) but a bit of frost wouldn’t go amiss. Not gonna happen here. It’s in the twenties at the mo and it’s still raining. We spend a lot of time complaining that it’s so humid. Kinda like it probs was when Mary and Joseph trekked to Bethlehem (did you see that seamless transition from weather to seasonally relevant Bible story? The weather really is a good starting point for any conversation).
So we all know the Christmas story, so much so that you might zone out a but when they read it in carol services (or maybe that’s just me). But how well do you know the Christmas prophecies? You know, the short readings before the nativity bit gets read?
So the other day I was reading Isaiah 9 when my Christmas prophecy alarm bell was triggered (it sounds like Away in a Manger and smells like mince pies and mulled wine):
For to us a child is born, 
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
 This year this scripture means more to me than just another part of the carol service. It’s a promise that I place alot of hope in. It’s the promise that injustice will end. I believe in God’s promises.
Not that I think we have no responsibility and should wait for God to fix everything. He’s put us here for a reason, one of them being that we are to bring bits of His Kingdom here on earth. I believe that we have to help those who suffer. Sure we can’t fix everything but we can make a difference, even if it’s just to one person. We can make a difference between loneliness and love. A difference between health and sickness. A difference between slavery and freedom. A difference between hunger and food. A difference in illiteracy and education. A difference between justice and injustice.
 So this year Christmas is different (I’m really trying to not sound cheesy but it’s harder than you think). This year I’m wondering about differences.
I hope that you have a Christmas filled with differences. Differences of Hope, Joy and Love.

I am loving this song right now. Repeat-repeat-repeat. And then repeat some more.

Isaiah 7v14-15

She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel – ‘God is with us.’

 

Immanuel. God is with us.

I return to this every Christmas.

God is with us.

He is not far off and distant – though we often think he is.

God is with us.

God is with us through sickness.

God is with us through unemployment.

God is with when we want nothing more than to hide from the world forever.

God is with us when we’re o so tired and just can’t wait for a break.

God is with us in grief and mourning.

God is with us when we dread the day ahead.

God is with us in joy and sadness

God is also with us when he seems silent.

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even until the end of the age. Matthew 28v20

I just LOVE this Tolkien quote:

“We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it; our whole nature at it’s best and least corrupted, it’s gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’... As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of sibb (peace, kinship), peace and goodwill. And with the thought of it’s loss.”

I have so much drama surrounding being exiled to the suburbs. I’ve been reading the Old Testament books dealing with the Exile of the people of Israel and Judah – there was a lot of drama there too.  But this weekend I realised that Adam and Eve were the first exiles. They were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

So the Lord God banished Adam and his wife from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After banishing them from the garden, the Lord stationed mighty angelic beings to the east of Eden. And a flaming sword flashed back and forth guarding the way to the tree of life.                                                                                                                                              Genesis 3 v 23-24

After Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil their relationship with God was broken. Their relationship with each other was fractured. And their relationship with the garden was corrupted. The consequence was that they were exiled.

God exiled Adam and Eve from the place where they were in a perfect relationship with God, a perfect relationship with each other and a perfect relationship with the garden. God exiled them from the place where they had known peace and unity with God, peace and unity with each other and peace and unity with the garden. The peace and sweet living of former days was gone and there was nothing they could do to bring it back.

Instead they had to work the earth for food. They had to navigate the parameters of their new relationship. God no longer walked with them in the garden – their relationship with him was broken beyond their ability to repair it; they were separated.

Unlike me who ends up in East London nearly every week, Adam and Eve could no longer return to the place they had called home. Banished. Exiled. Never to return.

The Old Testament chronicles life for God’s people from that moment of exile. It points toward the one who could and would bring us back to the peace and unity of the garden. It points to the one who would establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness, removing evil from the world. It points to the one who would bring us back from exile into a relationship with God. It points to Jesus.

And so it follows that the New Testament is how God enables us to return from exile and how we can live our lives neither exiled from our relationship with God, but not quite home yet. Not quite returned to the peace and unity of the garden.

I think this is what Tolkien meant – no matter how perfect a particular moment in time we always know that it will end. So we long for the time in the garden when all was well. We are soaked with a sense of exile.

I know in Advent we’re supposed to be looking forward to celebrating the arrival of Christ on earth. But my heart always skips from being thankful for the birth of Christ as a man on earth, to being even more thankful that his death and resurrection can bring us back from exile – if we would choose it.

Choose life y'all.

Yesterday was the first day of Advent (although I'm already three four five days into my advent calendar - quit judging, I was hungry yeh).

I wanted to write something poetic about the start of the Season of Goodwill celebrating Christ becoming a Man and all that jazz. I wanted to describe the poignant symbolism and candlemonium (yes it is a real word) of the Christingle service at church. Something about how I love the unity of standing in a circle holding candles stuck in oranges, slowly passing on the flame. Something about how Jesus being the Light of the World by which the darkness is conquered makes so much more sense when the flickering flame of the candle helps you to see your brothers and sisters on the far side of the room. I wanted to segway into a Narnia reference and then end it all with a sweet scripture from one of the prophets about the coming of the King establishing peace and justice.

But I don’t have the words - maybe once I've put in my 10,000 hours I will. Instead, you know what They say - when in doubt, C. S. Lewis quote it out...

On the incarnation

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

From Mere Christianity 

Happy Advent y'all.

Christingle service at St Peter's Bethnal Green

Who will you spend Christmas* with when you’re 65? Something I was asked recently and in line with the whole Quarter Century Crisis thing, this has proved to be quite a relevant question. But it got me thinking, not only who will I spend Christmas with when I’m 65 but who will I be when I’m 65? 
 
I’ve always hoped that at some point in my life I would become one of those super accomplished women. You know, the ones who can juggle work, family, friends and life while managing to effortlessly rustle up a gourmet meal for twenty at the drop of a hat whilst wearing a ballgown. It's not hard to see that I am so not her right now. But surely now is the time to start becoming that person?
 
To be honest I find it hard to envisage life beyond July (although plans for August are beginning to look Excellent As) and so thinking about the next 42 years is Far Out. But here are some considerations for Christmas 2055:
 

Will I have an open house policy of welcoming any family member (including the ones you'd rather not be related to) plus assorted guests into my home with open arms? Or will I only invite a privileged few (and definitely not those strange relations who rather lower the tone) to share the yuletide festivities of my home?

 
Will I have taken time to put up decorations (complete with this year’s theme of handmade arts and crafts ) or will a sullen looking artificial tree crammed into the corner of the kitchen suffice?
 
Will I have managed to effortlessly cook a five course feast (including four meat choices, two fish courses and at least five different desserts) without ending up on the kitchen floor crying for my mother?
 
Will I be serving only seasonal and organic produce or will I be microwaving whatever was on offer at Tesco? (avoiding anything that claims to be beef, obvs)
 
Having decided that pointless gift giving is a wasteful social norm, will I have braved the wrath of many by giving everyone a Kiva loan instead? 
 
Having banished all internet and game devices for the day will I manage to keep everyone entertained with a rousing sing-a-long around the piano (expertly played by myself of course)? Or will it quickly descend into chaos with small children mistaking the household pets for moving Piñatas and the teenagers taking bets on which pet will get caught first?
 
As Hostess Supreme will I mange to help feed the babies, soothe the toddlers’ tears and appease their older siblings’ ploys for more attention without neglecting the elderly relatives? Or having been pushed to the limit by cooking and having too many people in my space will I be grumpily hiding away in the garden hoping that no one can see me smoking and swigging wine from the bottle?
 
Will I make time to actually talk with my family and see how they are or just make awkward small talk about the weather – I mean it has been rather cold lately and they’re saying it might snow in the new year, which would be terrible because how could I possibly get to town to do some sales shopping because we’re hoping to get a new radio in the sales because blah blah blah.
Will I cheerily wave everyone goodbye at the end of the day already planning next year’s festivities? Or will I let them see themselves out in favour of opening up the good bottle of wine that I didn’t want to waste on them at dinner?
Well, I’ve got 42 years to figure it out. Piece of cake.
Who will you be when you're 64 65?
 
*well, actually they said thanksgiving because they were American. But fear not I have a Cultural Relevance Adaptability Licence so it’s ok to change it.