A Dad for Christmas

Christmas presents

When it comes to Christmas, it might be safe to assume children will ask Santa for an extensive list of toys, games and treats.  But a survey highlighted in The Telegraph of their typical lists for Father Christmas has shown many have more serious concerns, requesting “a dad” instead.

A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer.

A “pet horse” was the third most popular choice, with a “car” making a bizarre entry at number four.  But despite their material requests, the tenth most popular Christmas wish on the list was a “Dad”.

The survey, of consumers at Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City, found children aged three to 12 years also wanted a dog, chocolate and a stick of rock.  Traditional hopes for a white Christmas were represented by a wish for “snow” in ninth place, with sensible youngsters also requesting a “house”.

Of the top 50 festive requests, 17 related to pets and animals, with some imaginative children hoping for a donkey, chicken and elephant.

iPhones and iPads also appeared on the list, with some quirky children asking for the moon, a time machine, a pond cover and beetroot. One child asked for Eva Longoria and another wanted Harry Styles from One Direction.

A request for a “mum” reached number 23 on the list.

Our Greatest Christmas Hope

Nancy Guthrie:

Our great hope is not just going to heaven when we die, though that is so wondrously good. But God has much grander plans. Our great hope is that Christ will come again, not as a helpless baby in a manger, but as a magnificent king on a throne—a king who will be close enough, and gentle enough, to wipe every tear from our eyes. He will personally put an end to everything that has brought his people pain. He will “raise the sons of earth” by transforming “our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21) to live with him forever on a gloriously renewed earth.

The wonder of it made the herald angels want to sing. And as the wonder of it begins to sink in, it makes us want to sing, too.

Read the rest here.

All-Age Christingle Talk

Here’s a copy of the talk I did today at our two all-age Christingle services:

Take a look at the screens:

Christmas in a Nutshell is that God showed up in our neighbourhood so we would know who the eternal God is and what he’s really like.

But what does that mean today, I wonder why you came to church today?  Perhaps your parents told you to or perhaps your children told you to come

Question: Who came last year?

Question: Did you like it?

Question: Why did you come to church today?

  • Like the singing
  • Be with your friends

Well I came – because it’s my job!!!  But I also came because of Jesus, the same Jesus who said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (Jn 8:12)

Question: Anyone remember from last year what Christingle means?

Christingle actually means ‘Christ – Light’ and so Christingle celebrates the light of Jesus coming into the world.  In John’s Gospel chapter 1 Jesus is described as the “light of men”: “The Light shines in darkness but the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

No one is really sure how the Christingle service came into being.   The earliest record of a Christingle service was in 1747 in a Moravian church in Marienborn, Germany.  The Moravian bishop, John de Watteville, gave each child a lighted candle tied round with a red ribbon as a way of illustrating the great love Jesus has for us all.

Question: Can I ask someone to bring me a Christingle?

The Orange stands for the world, with all its sin and suffering.  We have seen a lot of that on television recently – with shootings in the USA, wars in Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.   It’s such a shame because this world could be a really nice place to live in.  But evil people do evil things.

The Candle stands for Jesus coming into this world, as the light of the world.  As we heard earlier, Jesus said: “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)

Jesus’ birth, which we celebrate at Christmas is the like the lighting of the candle.

LIGHT THE CANDLE

The red ribbon stands for the blood of Jesus.

Jesus, the little baby whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas – was killed on a cross when he was only 33 years old.

He died so that we could become part of God’s family.  Jesus blood was spilled to take away the evil of the world – to wash us and makes us whiter than snow.

The red ribbon is placed around the orange to show that – when Jesus died – it was for the whole world.  When evil men killed Jesus – an act, which we remember on Good Friday – they thought that they had put out the light of the world for good.

BLOW OUT THE CANDLE ON THE CHRISTINGLE

And it seemed for three days that the Light of the world had been put out.

RELIGHT THE CHRISTINGLE CANDLE

However God relit it, when he raised Jesus from the dead and every Christmas we are reminded that Jesus continues to shine in the darkness.

The four cocktail sticks stand for the four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter.  On the sticks there are fruit, nuts and sweets to show the good fruits in the earth.

The fruit also reminds us if we are to follow Jesus, we too should produce good fruit. As St. Paul reminds us the fruit of God’s spirit in our lives is: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 6:22)

I’d like to leave you with a final thought.  When people killed Jesus, they thought that they had put out the light of the world for good. However God relit it, when he raised Jesus from the dead.  And so I’d like to encourage you to think about this every time you see a candle on a Christingle or on an advent wreath.

Jesus’ birth is the like the lighting of the candle.  And although it was blown out later by bad men, God re-lit the candle and it continues to shine in the darkness.  And we should live our lives so that people see that we shine too, as the Candle – just like Jesus.  For we too need to bring love, help and support to others who need our love and God’s love.

As we saw in the video when we remember the birth of Jesus the most amazing fact is that it is God with us.  God has come down from heaven, and walked with us, lived with us, worked with us in our neighbourhood, in our community.

Do They Know Its Christmas?

Luke 2-10 - lego bible

Here’s a copy of the talk I gave at our 14-18 year olds alternative carol service on Sunday evening:

Well, it’s the last Uncover of the year, we’ve come together to worship God.  We have sung carols and prayed and read the Bible and now we come to the sermon.

What I want to do then is to focus on Luke 2:10

‘But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”’

This is part of the story of the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  After Jesus is born in Bethlehem and placed in the manger by his mother Mary, Luke switches attention to the hills around Bethlehem and to some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks of sheep at night.  An angel, a supernatural messenger from heaven, appears to them and makes this announcement: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

Now you will see that the verse naturally divides into three: “Do not be afraid/I bring you good news of great joy/that will be for all the people.”

Therefore I want to say three things to you this morning.

God is mighty & powerful but we do not need to be afraid

The very first thing the angel says is “Do not be afraid”.  This, you will discover if you look, is a typical phrase to be found in the mouth of an angel.  Why does he say what he says?  Well, the fact is that the shepherds were terrified by the appearance of this angel. It was undoubtedly a frightening thing to witness his appearance.

Sometimes we get afraid when we think of the greatness of God and his eternity or of our own mortality.  Part of the Christmas message is that we should not be afraid.  Sometimes the world inadvertently stumbles on this truth and understands a little of it.

If you know the lyrics of the Band Aid single “Do they know it’s Christmas?” often heard at this time of the year, you may remember that it starts in a rather odd way.  The first line is a rather predictable “It’s Christmastime” but then, rather unexpectedly there is the angel’s line “there’s no need to be afraid”.

Fear is an odd word to associate with Christmas, and yet for so many people that is the case sadly.  The Band Aid single was originally written to highlight Africa.  This winter once again many people are struggling with famine and starvation, currently over 35,000 people a day die of treatable illnesses such as malnourishment.

Surely no-one in Britain associates Christmas with fear?  But Christmas is a time when money is a worry, for many people sadly it is a time when they spend lots to keep up with the Jones’ and then spend so much of the year trying to pay it off.  Also for those who live with alcoholics, drug addicts, and broken families Christmas can be a nerve wracking time trying to make everything feel normal when it is anything but normal.

So further on in the song we are encouraged to “say a prayer” to “pray for the other ones” the reasoning being that for them, unlike for us, “at Christmastime it’s hard”.  And so we are exhorted when we’re having fun to remember that there is:

“a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear.  Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.  And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.”

The way to deal with fear is not simply to “spread a smile of joy” and “throw your arms around the world” but to look above for some comfort and some encouragement.  Yes, it is Christmas time and there is no need to be afraid – but not because we live in the UK and are comparatively wealthy, living in a world of plenty when compared with the wider world.  It is because those charged with doing us good say “Don’t be afraid” just as God himself calls on us not to fear.

God is mighty and he does work powerfully but we do not need to be afraid if we listen to the message in this verse we are focussing on: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

We have good news to share that brings great joy.

The angel goes on then “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy … .”  There is an argument here. Why should the shepherds not be afraid and why should I not be afraid either, this Christmas time?  The Band Aid idea is that “at Christmastime we let in light and we banish shade” which is a good metaphor but puts the emphasis on what we can do.  “In our world of plenty” they say “we can spread a smile of joy.  Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.”  But the good news of Christmastime is not really to do with brotherly love or the idea that we can all help each other, although these are great concepts.

Rather, the angel says “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy … .”  Here is good news and it will make you really, really joyful.  But what was that good news?  We know don’t we.  It was the news that a baby had been born in Bethlehem.  Now the birth of a baby is always good news but this was a very special baby, of course, who had been born.  This was the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ himself – the one who would grow up to be the Saviour of the World.  This is good news and it should fill us with joy – Good news from heaven not from earth.

When we turn on the news on the radio or television we expect to hear bad news and it usually is bad news.  I tried this morning – flooding around the UK, distrust of the police over Plebgate, the CPS examining the death of the nurse who took the hoax call, Syria building chemical weapons, a Pakistani mob beating to death a Muslim accused of blasphemy, the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings.

Sometimes there is so much bad news that it can make us very depressed.  I found an article online headed “How to cope with so much bad news in the world”.  The article begins:

“These days there seems to be a lot of bad news in the world. Many people are struggling economically. Some people are even losing their homes. The winter weather has been treacherous in spots. Wars are still raging in numerous locations all over the globe. So what can you do to fight off depression during these difficult times?”

Three basic answers are given:

  1. Listen out for the good news stories that are there too
  2. Switch the radio and TV off
  3. Especially avoid stories that you find very upsetting.

Again, this may be of use for some people but it isn’t that helpful really.  Rather, we need to see all the bad news in the context of this wonderful good news that Jesus Christ has come.  God has sent his one and only Son into the world to save the world through him.

This is our focus this evening then – it’s on good news, the good news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who can save us from our sins and from death.  What greater good news could there be?  What joy it is, what great joy, to know that God so loved this world that he gave his one and only son into the world to save us.

According to the news this morning the Archbishop of Canterbury has recently been preaching about the fact that children are growing up too fast in our society and that may be so but it is not the message he should be preaching for Christmas Day is it?  No we say “Do not be afraid here is good news of great joy” – sing through all Jerusalem, Christ is born in Bethlehem!

This good news of great joy is for everyone who will hear

The whole sentence spoken by the angel is this: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  That last phrase is very significant.  He doesn’t say “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all of you shepherds” or “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the Jews.”  No, he says, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  This is good news of great joy for everyone.

That means good news for all of us present this evening.  You can know real joy and solid good news if you know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him.  Try and meditate it on this today – it’s Christmas time – no need to be afraid.  Why? Not because we have plenty to eat and lots of family and friends around us but because Jesus has come into the world to save us!

It also means good news for all those who are not present this evening.  They too can know real joy and solid good news if they know that God has sent his Son into the world so that whoever believes in him can be forgiven and know every blessing in him.  The question for us is how we are going to get that message out in the year to come.  There is no need to be afraid because Christ Jesus has come into the world to save people.  Let’s begin with our own family and friends and see what we can do.

The shepherds we read in verses 17-18, spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  We also ought to spread the Word and as we do others will be amazed and turn to Christ.

All-Age Christmas Talk: Highly Favoured

Luke 1 - Lego Bible

Here’s a copy of the talk I did yesterday at our Children’s Christmas Praise:

There are two types of people – those who love Christmas and those who struggle with Christmas.  This year we’re in a credit crunch Christmas.  Someone recently said that we have no wise men left: 10 years ago Steve Jobs was alive, Johnny Cash was still alive, and Bob Hope was still alive, now we have no jobs, no cash and no hope!

The word I think that sums up Christmas is “Favour”.

Sometimes when Christmas comes we don’t feel favoured at all.  We see how everyone else is doing and they have their perfect family, but our family needs a UN resolution to get everyone in the same room, we don’t feel favoured.  In some families they use a dainty silver bell to bring everyone to the dining table, but your family uses the usual method of the smoke alarm, you don’t feel favoured.

Some people in order to have a quiet and peaceful experience put the kids on a different table.  You would have to put them on a different table, in a different room, in a different house, ideally in a different town!  People buy their turkeys from a Bernard Matthews farm, you buy yours from some discount warehouse, it looks like a dinosaur, takes 6 weeks to defrost, and you end up putting it in the tumble dryer as a last ditch attempt to defrost it – you don’t feel favoured.  You left it too late to get the tree and you end up with the one that is two foot high and about forty feet wide.  Or even worse it is a very, very small and says the words “air freshener” on it!  You don’t feel favoured.

The Bible says wherever you are at, however you feel about it, the truth of Christmas is that we are favoured.

Luke 1

In Luke 1 the word favour means “God’s grace”, grace literally means a free gift you didn’t deserve.  The angel says to Mary “you are highly favoured”.  As a youngster I was a choir boy and we used to sing the song Gloria, and the refrain is “Most highly favoured lady” but we would always sing “Most highly flavoured gravy”.  But the angel says Mary you are highly favoured.

Think of a 14 year old, illiterate peasant girl, scrambling around in the dirt in a small insignificant village in the Roman Empire.  Mary was someone who was at the bottom of the social ladder, someone who hadn’t done anything special with their life.  But the whole point of grace is that it is not deserved.  Grace is what God gives you just because!  The angel says to Mary she is highly favoured, highly covered in God’s grace.

The Bible says you are favoured, which means his grace is looking for you, searching you out.  Mary simply responded to it.

Luke 2

But Luke 2 brings us a second type of favour, not simply God’s grace but God’s delight.  When the angel speaks to the shepherds he says ““Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”  There is a universal message.  “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  No one is excluded from this, you don’t have to earn it, to achieve it, but instead you just get it.  The word favour literally means the pleasure and delight of God.  It can also be used to say God’s longing, God’s satisfaction.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel if I could meet God that he wouldn’t be very happy with us, he’d be disapproving of us.  If you give your life to God it can feel like you are limited, you have to be smart and serious, carry a big bible, drink milk from a Christian cow, your life becomes difficult and hard.  But the Bible says that isn’t the case at all, the Bible says God is pleased with you.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t done anything, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t given him a second thought, he is absolutely delighted with you.

He chooses to send the message to shepherds.  We might have quite a cute image of shepherds, but the reality at that time was that they were the underclass of Jewish society, they were considered unclean, they were regarded with cynicism, scepticism and distrust.  Shepherds roamed around, they had no respect for other peoples land, they would just bring their sheep anywhere they fancied, they were a law unto themselves.

The angel says, shepherds listen you are favoured.  The shepherds were confused because they were the punch bag of society.  Some of us are trying so hard to push ourselves, to validate our identity, we are trying to find it in the toys, the money, school, work – but listen you don’t need to and can’t do anything to make God pleased with you – it is not possible.  God is absolutely taken with you, he adores you.

At Christmas time heaven and earth are fused together, that God himself comes down from heaven to our earth.  That is what is so wonderful.  That God’s opinion of you is so great, so passionate, that he wants to be with you, he don’t just want to be like the old uncle in heaven who visits once a year and embarrasses people, but he wants to be right there with you, God there with us, Emmanuel, living in flesh, as we’re favoured.

God knows that we mess up, that we make mistakes, that we live regrets, but he says if I could tell you one thing, if I could shout it from the heavens with a whole host of angels it would be this: “I am well pleased with you, I am delighted with you, I am captivated by you and I have come all this way because I want to know you, I want you to be brought into relationship with me – I was meant for you and you were meant for me.”

Christmas Prayer: Let there be Light

h

Here’s the other prayer we used in our Children’s Christmas Praise yesterday morning:

Leader: Let us pray:

This Christmas, as we remember the birth of Jesus in a stable,

we are reminded that hope comes in unexpected ways

and in unfamiliar places.

We pray for the work of schools.

Wherever the world is in darkness, Lord,

All:      Let there be light.

Leader: This Christmas, as we remember the violence with

which the soldiers came searching for Jesus,

we are reminded that conflicts still have devastating

effects on children trapped between warring sides.

We pray for conflict zones and look for peace,

especially in Ireland, Israel, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo,

Sudan, and Afghanistan.

Wherever the world is in darkness, Lord,

All:      Let there be light.

Leader: This Christmas, as we remember the flight of Jesus’

family to Egypt,

we are reminded of the plight of people forced to

flee from homes and possessions.

We pray for refugees and asylum seekers,

especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.

Wherever the world is in darkness, Lord,

All:      Let there be light.

Leader: This Christmas, as we remember the homeless

Holy Family,

we are reminded of the millions of families now

who have no shelter and who face eviction.

We pray for all homeless people wherever they are

in the world.

Wherever the world is in darkness, Lord,

All:      Let there be light.

Leader: This Christmas, as we remember those who went

to the stable,

we are reminded that we need to make a journey.

We pray for ourselves that as you have come to us,

we may also come to know you,

to know you and to love you more

as we serve other people.

Wherever the world is in darkness, Lord,

All:      Let there be light.