So what is the meaning of Christmas; when outreach gets real

For a year now, with a group of volunteers I have been leading a Listening Ear Programme which incorporates a Chair Exercise/Relaxation class for people who suffer from Chronic Pain.  We also offer counselling sessions for those with a need for more formal emotional help.

All our services are free and depend solely on donations and the free giving of time by volunteers in the Church at GMC.

On Friday 19th, we are hosting a Carol Service for the people who use the service, many of whom do not necessarily attend church regularly; in fact for some of them the only experience they have of a church is when they come to our group on a Friday.

Our Message for the day is included below, I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful,  God Bless

                                        What is the meaning of Christmas?


Well, why do we do this every Christmas?  We have a pagan festival that the early Christian Church adopted, so we have an odd mix of Christmas Trees – you can’t really miss them here!  Mistletoe – an old English fertility sign – Parties, Food +++, Family get togethers, a yearly visit to Church – well it’s traditional.  Carol Concerts, and school nativities.

I wonder what we really think Christmas is all about? 

Some say it is all about the children.  Santa Claus, the big guy in the red suit.  But isn’t he a product of Coca Cola?  Presents galore.  With every year the pressure on and from retailers gets greater.  Where is this heading? – higher bills and more debt. 

Some say it is all about Family.  That’s what  is most important isn’t it?  Then why is Christmas such a busy time for Samaritans?  Why are other more break ups at Christmas than at other times?  And yet Family get togethers are such a traditional theme of Christmas?  Jesus had this to say about the importance of family or racial allegiance.  “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Sometimes this sounds like one of those hard biblical pieces where Jesus just sounds a bit rude, and we therefore ignore it or avoid it.  But in the context of 1st C Judea, Family and tribal ties were all important, they still are in some parts of the middle east.  The history is that just earlier his family were actually saying they wanted to pretty much kidnap Jesus as they felt he was becoming an embarrassment.  Maybe Jesus was still smarting a bit; either way the message is that family is not THE most important thing.  Tribal or blood ties should not be what dictates our choices or thinking. 
Some say it is an excuse for a Rave!
Great; everyone likes a good time.  But what comes next?  Post Christmas blues, Credit card bills, more debt.

Well surely Carol Concerts are what Christmas is all about.  After all lot’s of planning go into them, we all feel good after and they set us up for Christmas.  How many of us will shake the ministers hand and say “ Nice Service!”  So what stops us going back next week or the week after?  No, it is not enough that they give us a feel good Christmassy feeling.  Great as they are, Carol Concerts are not what Christmas is about.
So it must be the Nativity scene, surely. Those of you on facebook may well be aware of the nativity scene that is doing the rounds.  Though I wouldn’t agree with those who seem to argue that we ought to keep nativity plays in schools due them being traditional.  It’s not really traditionally British, as the scene is of an event that happened in the middle east, probably not in a stable, there was no innkeeper, we don’t know how many wise men, so question marks here as well.
A few days ago my youngest told me about a story at her school.  One of her friends had said that Christmas will last until about February.  When Beth said that it finished at Epiphany this young lady looked a bit blank.  Well that’s ok in itself because you wouldn’t expect everyone to know about Epiphany  but she then looked blank when Beth mentioned Jesus.
Perhaps it worth looking again at the Nativity and Jesus in particular  and see what we can see.
We have the manger, Mary and Joseph, 3 magi, Shepherds.  Who are these people and what role are they playing.  One way of reading this is to see them as playing important signposting roles to what is happening.  Take the baby leaping in Elizabeth’s womb – you will find that in Luke’s gospel in the very first chapter.  We have angelic visitations from Gabriel.  God is intervening here bout how.  There are echoes of Elijah with John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s baby.  Elijah was one of the Old Testament’s most important prophets.  We have 3 magi with presents that seem a bit odd, and the song of Mary which talks about the rich and powerful being upstaged and the poor having righteousness and justice.
The baby is hailed as the Messiah.  And this is the key.  This baby is the LORD himself.  God himself.  Fully human and divine, arrived to take his place as King of heaven and earth.  But again there is a real difference; no palaces, no servants; God arrives in the smallest and most insignificant manner you can imagine.  In fact it causes a stumbling block to some people that the author of the universe did not leave any record of his birth.  No evidence it was that hidden and small and unimportant.
This is a different type of kingship.  No Mafioso, no secret service, no MI5.  This is a suffering King, a servant leader whose aim is not to lord it over his people but to heal creation, all of it, whilst at the same time caring for an individual.  God is God of both the big and the small.  With the birth, the Kingdom starts as a mustard seed, starting to spread shoots and roots in Jesus life and ministry.  A new covenant is promised and enacted in his life and death and resurrection through which creation is transformed.  With Resurrection we have new life, new hope and a new age, a new way of doing things, a new way of living.
Who then is Jesus?  A good man, a teacher? A mad man? God?  The Gospels are really clear on this, and have been written so that we are left in no uncertain terms.  Jesus is our Lord and King who suffered rejection, from both his family and his society; betrayal, torture and death.  Why?  For Love.  John tells us this in his famous passage in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.  Not just  to bring about the judgement of evil.  Not just Satan, but also all who serve him.  To break down the barriers between Heaven and Earth.  To allow us to speak openly to God again  and for God to speak to us.
So in the midst of all that we have made Christmas, spend a moment please through the season to glimpse inside the manger.  A baby, more than a teacher, more than a prophet, more than a good man, rather take a look at God, the creator of the universe, making himself vulnerable for our sake and for the sake of all creation.

And when you have done that, read what happens next!


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