we’ve lost the shock!

I have just about recovered from quite a full weekend with the Dickens Festival. I have been thinking further on some of the things that happened over the weekend. In particular, it has struck me again how shocking the Christmas story is and how some people have great difficulty focusing in on this very fact.

Thousands of people walked through the cathedral over the weekend. Out of those thousands a very small few were quite unhappy with the nativity cut out scene. Around 4 people, 2 on each day, berated me quite severely. They were unhappy because they thought the cut out was demeaning or insulting to ‘the Holy family’.
When we chatted with these people and attempted to explain that part of the reason we were encouraging people to “get in the Picture” was to show how ordinary everyday people could be chosen by God for extraordinary roles, it was clear these people were so incensed by the very idea that they were not going to listen.
The birth of Jesus is shocking.
God becoming flesh is unbelievable in itself.
God becoming flesh in a normal everyday unmarried girl was a massive shocking risk.
God becoming flesh in a filthy crappy stable is disgusting.
(I don’t use the word ‘crap’ lightly or to shock…. but come on people it was a stable, have you ever wandered through a cow shed …. the crap and stink are there in abundance!)
We have sanitised the birth of Christ and replaced the crap, stench and filth with warm fluffy western images that glow with peace and tranquility. It’s hard to fathom, but God chose not to be born in such wonderful surroundings, preferring instead the stench of the cow shed.
The whole plan is so unbelievingly shocking but I believe we have lost the shock; maybe this Advent is a time to mull over the shock factor of the birth of Christ.

was that it?

Well that was Christmas.
Time with family and friends.
Cheer, laughter and fun.
We have enjoyed company, playing on the Wii, and generally being with the family having fun.
I have deliberately taken a week away from blogging to enjoy the family time more and the result of doing that means I have a lot of thoughts.

Midnight mass at the cathedral was a special time and, for me, a great and unique way to place Jesus Christ right at the centre of the festival.

Starting with Jesus causes me to ask …’that was Christmas, so what now!?’ Now that the festival is over is it time to pack Jesus off back into the other Bible stories and get on again with our lives; secretly sighing some relief that the busyness of the season has now passed.

I can’t help but think that if that is the case for us then we have failed in our celebration of Christmas, if not in the actual act of celebrating then in the meaning of Christmas itself. There must be more!

For the first time in a while over this Christmas period there were a number of younger children present in our festivities – babies and toddlers. I had forgotten how totally distracting and consuming a baby can be. Babies demanding attention so much that they require a lifestyle change; being the centre of attention not just for the parents but more or less for all of the people present.

As an aside it reminded me of a while ago when a couple I know well said that the addition of a baby to their life, due in a few months, was not going to be disruptive or change anything. I did not disagree with them, but instead I kinda smiled smugly to myself with the words ‘you just wait’ in my mind, remembering that I felt just the same, along with many prospective parents some 15 years ago, before the birth of our first child. No matter how hard you try, the arrival of a child into a family IS disruptive and EVERYTHING does change. In short, life is transformed. There is no going back. I am sure I am not alone as a parent in struggling to think was life was like before children – the way they not only take up space in the home, but the way they take up mind space with worry, concern and delight as well!

The arrival of Jesus as a baby was a disruptive experience. The arrival of Jesus caused life transformations to occur 2000 years ago, and that same arrival has been demanding and causing the same transformation every day since.

If we move away from the Christmas with the thought that the Christ child will have no effect on our lives, then I think we have missed out on something of the meaning of this event. The arrival of Jesus, the incarnation, means things are now different. I have come away from this Christmas realising that to try and pretend nothing has changed is possibly the greatest missed opportunity of all time.

Jesus born in a shelter

I just love this poster.
Jesus born in a bus stop – an urban shelter.
I can’t quite work out why, but the image ‘resonates’ in a way that provokes and excites me because it challenges the traditional image that seems to have become warm and respectable. The King of the Universe, born in a freezing bus shelter with some not even bothering to notice – now that’s shocking!
I think it is the best that the CAN have come up with for a while.

Urban Expression and the Incarnate Network Conference

I saw this on the YFC Blog and it looks excellent although it looks like I won’t be able to be there as it clashes with Rochester Diocese’s residential for Continuing Ministerial Education. Oh the joys that lie ahead for me ….

Urban Expression and the Incarnate Network Conference
Michael Frost – 9th October 2008 – CMS Centre Oxford

Invite you to join us for a day conference with Michael Frost to explore the implications of incarnational mission.

The day conference will run from 10.00 until 4.30. We will ask Michael to speak twice and give the rest of the time over to interaction and discussion around thetwo main themes. There will also be an opportunity for an open question/answer session to explore other issues

Michael will be talking on these two main issues:

• What are the implications of an incarnational approach to mission?
• How can indigenous leaders be empowered and released?

The cost for the day will be £20 (including lunch) or £15 (unwaged). To book a place, complete the booking form which can be obtained from this link and send it with a cheque payable to ‘Urban Expression’ to Urban Expression, 24 Effingham Road, Bristol BS6 5BJ.

Any queries, please contact Stuart Murray Williams: stuart@murraywilliams.co.uk

Advent: Christmas Eve’s extraordinary surprise

I have enjoyed Disturbing Complacency as it has assisted and enabled me to at least start each day focusing on what this season is all about.

Today is the last day of Advent, and as such focusing on the surprise of a child as God’s answer to what the world needed is quite amazing. Were we might think a great army, or money, or something else might be needed to transform the world; God comes up with the idea of a weak and vulnerable baby.

It is even more amazing to realise that that weak, vulnerable baby totally in the care of a teenage mother and her husband, is actually God incarnate in human flesh.

The miracle, the gift of the season, is so amazing on so many different levels. The more you think about the vulnerability and what may have gone wrong, the more amazing it becomes.

The gift of Christmas is God who became vulnerable out of a great love for the world.


On the Incarnation

Good friend Richard, helpfully reminded me in a comment to a previous post of this classic writing by Athanasius.
I have put off reading this for a little while probably out of fear of not being able to understand an ‘ancient classic’. CS Lewis addresses this in the forward of thefree online version I have just read with this statement:

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

Well … I certainly understood these 54 pages more than some of the other stuff I have read! This is essential reading for understanding of the doctrine of incarnation.

Incarnation Reading

Most of today I have taken time to catch up on some reading on the doctrine of incarnation and our response to euthansia.

I had a look through Complex Christ again and and read this in chapter 2 called “Inacarnation”:

The Church now seems to stand in the same place as God stood some 2500 years ago: misrepresented, accused of bigotry, portrayed as narrow minded and in love with power, only interested in buildings, ready to smite the dirty and sinful, over-occupied with sex, and ready to lend support for unjust wars … And so we must do as God did, as Christ comanded and exemplified: we must be born again. Become nothing, removed of strength and power and voice and means and language …

We must re-emerge and grow up again in the place we are meant to serve. Understand it, learn from it, be in it, love it, listen to it, wait 30 years before speaking to it. We must, like God, discard any thoughts that revolution is going to effect change in the Church or our world, and become dedicated to change by evolution.

Somehow those two paragraphs had not hit me first time I read them. As I read them today they seemed to strike with a new resonance and a new challenge to meet people where they are and wait to see what God might do.

Christmas goes on …

The Christmas celebrations are fading into the past, but the Ryan household are still trying to retain some of the wonder of the season and I’m pleased to say that the children are still marvelling over how lucky and loved they are due to presents received from others.

The celebrations of the last few days have memories I wish to record and remember:

My humorous eldest wrapping up an apple in a MacDonald’s Big Mac box and upon my quizzical look telling me it was the Apple Mac that I so covet! He thinks he is so funny!

Seeing family members we don’t see enough of.

Wonder that the simplest presents, like 25p strecthy people from Hawkins Bazaar, can provide endless hours of fun.

Seeing the enjoyment on peoples faces as they open presents and discover what is hidden beneath the wrapping.

Watching Daddy Cool last night at The Shaftesbury Theatre as a group of 16 family members – a cool joint present!

Thanks to Sarah’s great present to me I can now have freshly ground coffee whenever I like due to a nice shiny bean grinder.

We say that Christmas is over.
This year, though, I have been thinking a lot about the incarnation.
Christmas is never over.
The Advent-ure of ‘God in Flesh’ is always with us.
As transformed children of God we can keep the excitement!

The Nativity

Tom and I watched The Nativity today.

It was a well made film with lots of thought invested in the characters that we actually know little about.
I was particularly struck by a theme of fear operating in the background:
the fear of Herod losing his throne
the fear of Mary’s parents that she would be stoned for being unmarried and pregnant
the fear of Mary for her task
the fear of Joseph with ‘will I ever be able to teach him anything?’
the fear of Mary and Joseph as they look for a place to stay in Bethlehem.

I wondered of God was ever afraid that this might not work?

I was also struck by the simple faith of Mary and Joseph, the courage they displayed, and the way that these two learnt about each other on their journey to Bethlehem as they came to grips with what was happening. There is a poignant moment in the film when both Mary and Joseph share their fears with each other. It’s then that we are reminded that these are just kids. Kids chosen for an amazing task.

I remember hearing a few times that Jesus took a real risk investing in 11 shady characters called the disciples. There was no plan B with the spreading of the gospel. That may have been a risk.

But the real risk was in the incarnation.
God making himself vulnerable, at the mercy of a young girl and man who would need to care for him until he could care for himself.
There was no plan B.
What if they were not up to it?
What if they could not cope?
What if they decided it was all too much?

This was the real risk.
It’s amazing to think of.

God in the flesh.
An insignificant start for the most significant baby ever born.
The King of all born for all.
Divine born ordinarily to save the ordinary.
It’s an unbelievable thought!
Unbelievable and true!