If you were playing a word association game and someone started with the word ‘Advent’ then it’s likely the next word spoken will be ‘Calendar’. Don’t you just love Advent Calendars? Every day during Advent you get that wonderful sense of journey and anticipation as you open each door, counting down the days. And what’s more, behind each door there’s often a little message about the Christmas story, oh, and of course… a little chocolate treat too. Marvellous!
Advent and Christmas is a time of waiting and a time of promise. It is also a time for gifts. Isn’t it true that the real joy of gifts - given and received - is the wait and the promise? It might be difficult to appreciate a gift when there is no expectation, hope or surprise? At Christmas the Church gets a chance to tell both stories, the one about hope, promise and expectation; as well as the story of fulfilment, joy and new life. The problem however is that the world is not very good at waiting. I suppose we’re good at queuing, but when it comes to the material things in life, we often want to take the waiting out of wanting.
The ‘buy now – pay later’ culture is the new moto of our time and if we’re not careful it can slip into to our faith and spirituality too. My hope is that this Advent will be a time of great hope and anticipation and that the waiting for you will be a time to reflect on the truth of Christmas and Emmanuel, the coming of Jesus.
Whilst there are two stories of Advent, of waiting and wanting, there are also two stories of Christmas. The church looks to tell the story that impresses, captures attention; the story of the Holy Family, the magi, the angels and shepherds. Then there is the story that is rooted in fragility, pain, fear and forgiveness, the story of Herod, the story of a desperate world in need of salvation. The story of a simple refugee family looking for shelter, and of perfect love found in the squalor of a borrowed stable. My job is to tell both stories, but it pains me to say that I think the church all too often shies away from telling the latter. Is the Christmas story really just about the wonder and awe we see displayed in our cards and gift wrapping, or is there more?
Part of the problem might be in the kind of news we are used to seeing. It’s harder to find good news stories nowadays. Reporters look for the dirty, and gritty stories of our time, and rarely give column inches to so called ‘good news’. The unconscious reaction of the church has been to readdress the imbalance by telling the good news story of Christmas but by leaving out the rough and gritty bits. The problem is, this version of Christmas is neither a good ‘news story’ nor ‘The Good News’ story.
Our lives are not neatly packaged; God doesn’t ask for our glittery and polished story, he delights in knowing our whole story and loves us for it. In the same way the world doesn’t need a neatly packed Christmas Story, it needs the messy, gritty, dirty Christmas. The one that reflects the fragility of the world, the one that honours the pain some people feel at Christmas. The one that acknowledges that some of us will be mourning, struggling, homeless and lonely. The truth is that Christmas was always for them, as well as for you and me.
Why not join us in telling the real Christmas story this year, and may God bless you and all who you love. Revd Jeremy Putnam.
The laws of maths and geometry teach us that the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. If only the Israelites had paid attention to this when leaving Egypt, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken them 40 years to arrive in the Promised Land!
These days when we take a long journey we use the likes of Sat Nav or Google Maps, plotting our course based on a number of factors, such as distance, traffic and weather conditions. In Moses’ day they just had the stars - which was in a way, a kind of Sat Nav - but it certainly wasn’t the voice of Google Jane reading out the instructions en-route, “You have wandered too far into the wilderness turn around when possible.”
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we had a GPS device for faith, and hear the voice of God as clear as our mobile phones, handheld GPS devices and TomToms, helping us to stay fixed to the right path?
The psalmist wrote (Ps 119:105) “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Trying to articulate God’s vision for the church without listening for his Word is a bit like waiting for the Sat-Nav to give directions only to find you’ve locked it in the boot of the car because you thought you wouldn’t need it. The Word of God is what fuels the fire in our hearts, it is what fills the Church with passion, hope and Godly ambition for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A vision without the Word of God is a vision that has only an earthly sense of place and direction, and therefore we are left with a simple and logical utility like ‘The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line.’
But as the Israelites showed, sometimes the shortest route is not the best route.
Our obedience to the Word of God may well take us on a slower and more challenging route, as it did the Israelites. In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverge in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I think that there is something to be said for taking the easy route because it makes us feel safe. On the other hand there is something profound in taking the road less travelled, even if longer, windier and more dangerous along the way, because in doing so we venture through new territory, experience life and grow in unexpected ways.
God has a habit of working out his plan over the course of time. Very rarely does he call for the ‘quick fix’, or the ‘easy win’. As you read through this vision document you may feel that there is a lot to take in; we have time for this. This is a plan for the next 3-5 years so that we have the freedom to do this on God’s terms, and in His way.
The reason why the Israelites took so long over their trip to the Promised Land is because God wanted them to grow and to learn about the wisdom and grace of God, learning to live with a provisionality and dependency on his Word. We must do the same if we are to see the Gospel prosper and our Lord glorified. We must do the same if we are to see God’s purpose fulfilled in us and the church. Lifelong and meaningful change in the world can only occur through a lifelong and meaningful commitment to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. So my friends, here it is, our chance to make a difference, to grow in faith, to grow in number, to live for Christ and to seek his Kingdom.
Let’s do this together.
Yours in Christ
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.