The Holy Innocents

holy-innocentsToday we remember the horrible, painful, nasty side of the Christmas story. Today we remember that while one side of the coin of life can be celebration, the other side is pain, torment and anguish.

Today the church around the globe remembers The Holy Innocents. Amongst the time of joy and time with family, we remember today the actions of the evil King Herod who ordered the slaughter of hundreds of children in and around Bethlehem because he was afraid that the rumours of a child king, the Messiah, would put an end to his reign.

I was challenged at a school carol service just before Christmas as my talk did not mention the destruction of hundreds of children then, and now. The parent felt I should be honest. I responded that I don’t gloss over that horrendous act, but that a school carol service is not the correct place or space in time.

Now is that correct space; a time to remember not just the holy innocents of some 2000 years ago …. but a time to remember and pray and do something about the holy innocents of today; those children that today are still slaughtered, still enslaved, still abused, still innocent.

While surfing I happened upon this poem by Malcolm Guite. Well worth a listen as we pray for the holy innocents worldwide today.

Leaping Lord!

leaping-at-sunsetOver the last five years I have come to love some of the language of Common Worship Daily Office. I find the space for contemplation and meditation stills me and allows me to notice what I would otherwise be missing, even in my un-busy life of loitering with intent.

Today I said Evening Prayer within the walls of Cookham Wood prison in the multi faith space. No one else was present, and praying while in the prison is something I obviously do whenever I am there.

The words of the refrain for the magnificat really hit me today … full on in the face, it was like a wave crashing and sweeping me off my feet with both the exhilaration and fear for your life that goes with that experience.  I was challenged by the beauty and excitement of the language, which spoke with wild freedom in a place where every single door is always locked.

When peaceful silence lay over all,
and night was in the midst of her swift course:
from your royal throne, O God, down from the heavens,
leapt your almighty Word.

Isn’t that language amazing. We rightly think of the coming of Christ as this 9 month slow but painful journey which we read of in the gospels. This refrain gives a whole other side to the incarnation …. when all was still, when we were not expecting it, Christ leapt down from the heavens to experience creation as we do. The deliberate purposefulness of the language is striking. This was no second plan or impetuous decision … this was planned and deliberate.

It is still Christmas … God has leapt into this world …. to restore us … to experience our humanity … so that we might share the life of his divinity.

is my self image too small in this?

star-of-bethlehem1I have been struck by Richard Rohr’s thought this morning:

‘We, like Bethlehem itself, are too tiny to imagine greatness within us, but God always hides, it seems, inside of littleness and seeming insignificance. God lets us do the desiring and all the discovering.

Those who can recognize God within their own puny and ordinary souls will be the same who will freely and daringly affirm the Divine Presence in the body of Jesus and also in the body of the whole universe. It is all one and the same pattern. Get it once, get it everywhere!’

I don’t think anything needs to be added to the challenge of those words … go ponder ….

sanitised sacredness?

water-cooler-sanitisation-kitThe last week or so of Advent has been a very different experience for me. Regular SHP readers will be aware that over the last four years I have been based at Rochester Cathedral. Here carol services occur on a near daily basis, sometimes even more frequently, throughout December. I remember last year by around the 6th of December saying I was already ‘fed up’ with singing carols. So, the run up to Christmas throughout December was always incredibly busy.

The run up in Gillingham this year has been different. There have not been daily carol services, I have spoken and attended only four, and all of them happened this week. It has, however,  still been pretty busy which is why the blog has been quite quiet for the last week or so. The busy-ness has been different and it has involved people in the prison, the school and the High Street.

This blog is really my tool for reflecting on stuff. The busy-ness has meant I have been reflecting, but not really been in a position to express that reflection in a meaningful way here. I like to reflect, and I have been mulling over this whole advent and christmas thing. On one hand I have been reflecting on the grittiness of the story which I think I summed up in the filthy sacred stuff I wrote about earlier. Alongside that, I have been forced to reflect upon the sanitisation and fluffing of the story that we hear in many carol services and conversations.

I wonder how we got from one to the other. The popular media machine of the church has done a grand job of taking all the dirt and risk out of the story over the last few hundred years. We are left with warm images, and safety, and lovely calm animals and calm people and a baby that does not cry. Why is this? In my times of reflection I think I have arrived at two possible explanations for the warm fluffy nativity story that seems so familiar to all of us.

First, I guess the reality and truthfulness of God, in flesh, being born to a young couple in the filth, dirt and grime of a stable is so unbelievingly shocking that it made many feel uncomfortable and so needed ‘dressing up’ a bit. The saviour of the world born in the crap of a stable is scandalous. This is a holy event, and if it’s holy we can’t possibly have smells, and poo, and dirty animals and all that stuff going on. Maybe the holiness of the event calmed the animals, but it surely can’t have calmed the smell.

I think there may be also be another reason. The scandal of this scene has implications for all who call themselves Christian. Jesus was born into the filthy reality of the world and if we read the gospels we see that he remained there, working amongst the ostracised, the excluded, the untouchables, and generally all those people groups that the establishment (in this case the law and the temple) said should be kept away from. To work amongst these people, said the law, would result in you being unclean and unacceptable in the sight of God.

Jesus birth, life and death show this to be wrong; the very way to be holy, shows Jesus. is to be involved in the dirt and need of the world. Getting our hands dirty while working with God is a simple demand of our faith in Jesus.

If we are to follow Jesus as our example, then the task is pretty clear …. to work amongst the poor, the rejected, the outcast, … to work amongst those who are not valued or respected but are ignored, rejected and persecuted.

That’s quite a tall demand. That’s quite a major calling. I guess it makes some sense to sanitise the story, because if we sanitise and take the danger out of the birth, we sanitise and take the danger out of our responsibilities.

Merry Christmas

nativity on BBC1

This looks like it will be worth letting people know about.
It may well give lots of opportunity for discussion in the run up to Christmas.
I hope Christians use opportunities to chat that it may present, and not get bogged down in the ‘accuracy crap’ that some love to do … this is not a piece of theology, it will be a drama that people will enjoy watching.

I particularly like this piece of advice:

We suggest that local churches don’t hold screenings of The Nativity in churches and public buildings. They may be illegal. In any case the series is already being broadcast into almost every home in the country! It might be more useful to cancel existing events to allow people to watch the series.

Keep a look out for it.

have a blessed Christmas

may we all gain the wonder and acceptance of Mary as we celebrate the birth of the saviour

have a great and blessed Christmas

Our traditions!

Christmas is close and today, after I did a little bit of study on my study day (come on … cut me some slack!!!) we went to the dreaded Bluewater. This has become an annual custom of the Ryans. Gone are the days when Sarah and I bought the presents from our children to each other and to us. Now we seem to have developed our little tradition of going to Bluewater, giving each child and equal amount of money after discussing possible presents for each other and letting them go.

Our eldest, Tom, goes off on his own and sorts things and today I wandered with Beth first, we then met for coffee so that Beth and Joe can swap parents and but the last one without us knowing what it is. We then go somewhere fro dinner and come home. It’s very civilised and gives the children some early budgeting experience. It’s also quite fun to see them making decisions such as ‘If I but this for x then I only have this much money left for y’ … and so on. As I said it’s quite a bit of fun.

That tradition has developed and happened today which must mean that Chrstmas is very close. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve when we follow another long held family tradition which is an early evening party with cake to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. We shall be doing this tomorrow with good friends and family members. It started when our children were very little and we have tried to stop it a few times – but our children will not let us!

It’s funny how traditions can get a hold of us and become difficult to let go! Not that, in these two cases, I am wanting to!

christmas is getting closer

we did a lot of things this weekend … which kind of started early die to the snow.
One of the things we did was put up and decorate our Christmas tree – are you impressed?

RGS carols

I have just returned home from the privileged position of being the clergy person present at the Carol Service in the cathedral for Rochester Grammar for Girls. Lots of people said thanks you, but I merely prayed at the start and gave a blessing at the end … the students did all the hard work!

The service was beautiful and the students were a real credit to their staff, their parents and most of all to themselves. It was great seeing some friends there from Sarah’s youth group of the past as well as seeing my number one neice being the outstanding young person she is (and makes a fantastic head girl as well!)

Nights like this evening are a highlight of my life as a priest. A time when we can work with people as they look to celebrate Christmas and be available s they seek to make some sense of the Christmas story … which as I have said before is quite a strange and incomprehensible story.  It was also good because I got to see my niece  Rach …  who if I have not said so before I am mega mega proud of!