Jesus in the filth

maxresdefaultThe text of my Midnight Mass talk at St Luke’s earlier ….

Tonight is a holy night.
A night when we remember, celebrate, the birth of Jesus.
The Christ child.
The Saviour of the universe.
God incarnate.
Tonight is most definitely a holy night.
But what is holiness.?
Surely it has something to do with Godliness.
And I seem to remember from when I was a child that Godliness is somehow connected to cleanliness.
And I suspect many of us have grown up with that sanitised image.
To be holy is to be clean, dazzling, white, pure.

And with those images, many of us have grown up not only thinking that we can never be holy ourselves, because lets face it, none of us have clean, dazzling, white, pure sparkly lives, but also that we end up believing that we are never really good enough for God.

I have chatted with many people of varying ages in the cafes and bars of this area. Although each conversation has been unique and individual, there has been an amazingly common thread that has gone through each one. Most people tell me that they believe in God, but that they are not religious. Then those same people tell me that they don’t go to church because ‘well, if I did the roof will probably cave in!’ In other words … that person thinks they are not good enough, not clean enough, not pure enough to come before God.

But, is Godliness, or holiness, really linked with cleanliness. Where did that saying come from? Many think that it is a quote from the bible. It’s not. It’s actually a quote from Francis Bacon, and he didn’t write it until 1605.

As I look at the scene before us on this holy night, I am not convinced that Holiness, Godliness and cleanliness go together at all. I am not convinced God cares that much about how clean our lives are, but maybe more interested in our intentions, in our motivation?

The scene before us on this most holy of nights of two young parents, Mary and Joseph, who had travelled dusty roads for 4 days from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Mary on the back of a donkey, sleeping under canvas on the way, who then end up in a stable with the stench of animals and the muck around, even having to use the feeding trough for a cot to lay the newborn Jesus in – none of that sounds very clean to me.

It seems to me that we have made this amazing story all cute and lovely with fluffy animals and smiling shepherds and nice warm overtones. But, this was a filthy stable! Stables are not great on the cleanliness scale!

To try and illustrate how shocking this scene is before you, can you imagine the uproar there would be if Princess Kate, was forced for one reason or another to give birth to Prince George or Princess Charlotte, in a stable somewhere!? The doctors would be having fits because of germs and risk of infection, the authorities would be wound up in the red tape of health and safety, Corbyn and May would be firing accusations across the house of commons floor, the Queen would not be amused and newspapers would be split over the reason for the scandal. For a scandal it would be.

And a scandal it was … THE royal baby, God incarnate, the ruler of the universe, the saviour of the world, was born not in the luxury and relative safety and security of a palace or a royal hospital … but he was born in the muck, dirt, grime and filth of a drafty stable.

A stable is just no place for a baby!
And yet …. this is what we have.
Jesus, the most holiest of babies, was born into the filth of this world.
And while that may shock us, that is precisely why the birth of Jesus is good news for all of us.

In tonights readings we find Jesus in the ruins of Jerusalem in Isaiah, we find Jesus in the messy process of creation in Hebrews,  and we find Jesus as a light in the darkness in John. One interpretation of that darkness could be the dark uncomfortable places in our society of fear, torture, hunger, homelessness – the messy places that the media like to sweep and hide away. Jesus knows exactly what the tough places in our world are like.

If we look at Jesus in the gospels ‘One of the teachings he resisted was ‘holiness-as-separation‘ the idea that you need to stay pure to be acceptable to God.

Jesus got involved in the dirt and mess of his creation. Jesus ministry is not to gather the clean and sanitised and take them into a private club. Jesus ministry is to those who are told they are unwanted, those who hurt, those who feel they are not good enough, those who feel they do not have holy lives, those who do not have sparkly whiter than white pure lives …. those like you and like me who desperately want to belong, but don’t believe we can.

The birth of Jesus in the stable on this holy night means that not only we can belong, but that we do belong. Because Jesus was born into the reality of this world, he understands, he knows how we feel, and he can be found standing with us. Because we are worthy of his time, we are good enough to be in his presence.

Holiness has not so much to do with how we are, but how Jesus is with us. It is the presence of Jesus in our lives that makes us holy.

So …. this Christmas, why not come back to your creator, Jesus, and take on board that good news; the good news that says  you are loved, you are accepted, you are good enough and you belong and that, yes, you are holy too!

Amen

 

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Christmas blessings

christmas-card-2016
As in previous years I have chosen not to send cards this year.
I have taken a picture I took of a stained glass window and created a card with it
The money I would have spent on cards has been donated to The Children’s Society.
It would be great if you wanted to make a donation too: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk

what a day …

cs618508-01a-bigYesterday was one of those packed and varied days with little space to reflect upon activity as I rushed from one event to another. It was the type of day I had before I was ordained and working with YFC when I always seemed to have to jump from one meeting or task to another and take on different roles as I journeyed through the day.

Yesterday started with morning prayer as usual and then staff meeting where we reviewed the week via a bacon roll (thanks Margaret!) and looked at the web ahead of us. We reviewed a lot of Christmas services and carol events.

Following this on my way home I bumped into a person who, this year, will not be celebrating or experiencing the joy of Christmas in their home. This person was really quite sad and lonely (as we chatted I told this person I was a blogger and they asked if I would include our encounter … I said I would not normally as it is always hard to not by accident make some identifying comment … but this person specifically asked that I did … so here you go!) We chatted about this person’s life and the person said it was helpful; before going on to say that I was the first person they had spoken to in weeks and that they missed personal conversation … it made me weep to think that this is even possible in an overcrowded city like London! We prayed together in a  coffee shop before I then had to move on. I always find chance encounters to be full of God … it was a real privilege to spend time with this person … thank you.

I next arrived at St Mary Magdalene Peninsula school to be the chaplain / speaker at the Christmas Service. The staff there, as ever, are amazing at getting the best out of children. Some of the Year 2’s sang solos in the choir (is a KS1 choir the youngest choir going?) which were simply stunning. I then spoke about Jesus and the Christmas Story using a candy cane as an illustration all aided by a bit of fun ‘magic’ (there is no such thing as magic children … remember this is just a trick!) that produced the desired wow factor – all thanks going to Mission Magic who sold me an awesome trick!

After chatting with some staff I headed to Craft for a coffee and a meet up with a cool guy called Dave Pilkington. Dave is training at St Mellitus to be a vicar to work in the Olympic Park … overseen by the amazing Bishop of Stepney! We talked about mission and the church and contemplation and a lot of other stuff. You know that feeling you get when meeting someone that just instinctively tells you this guy is a good guy … well it was like that. I will be watching with some envy but also great anticipation as Dave starts to develop things in the Olympic Park.

I then hopped on a couple of buses from this meeting to get to St Mary Magdalene Blackheath to be part of the audience as the Year 7’s put on an amazing production of A Christmas Carol. It was a great couple of hours and allowed me to wander the school and chat to people before hearing some amazing singing and seeing some excellent acting.

Hopping on another bus took me to The Pelton Arms where it was my turn to sing carols and join with others from the East Greenwich Team. Lots of people in the pub joined in and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to sing carols in their community. I think that is quite key for us to note … that going out from the church and giving people opportunity to mark events in the wider community , rather than always inviting them to join us in our smaller one, seems to be becoming more of a perceived need. It is interesting that this follows on from Jean’s observations here.

It is clear to me that people last night wanted to join in the singing of carols, that they wanted maybe to connect with something that is lying dormant deep within them … but I wonder if it is not until they were exposed to some resonating experience (in this case our singing carols in their pub) that people are even aware that there is something lying dormant within. I am thinking aloud … but it is worth proper thought and reflection as I wonder whether the people in the pub would have experienced carols and that sense of memory or wonder if the church had not gone in to that space?

Following the Pelton I finally got home …. listened to some Bowie and went to sleep. A lot of stuff yesterday that I need to take the time to reflect on … and I will do!

Our next Parish carols is at the Vanburgh on Thursday night (8pm) so why not join us!

 

 

last night …

img_1332So last night we had Christingle.
We saw 15 people attend … that may not seem many but it is our highest congregation this year.
8 people attended who had never been to HTGP before …. that has to be seen as encouraging.
Certainly I am a little disappointed that we did not see more. I hoped we would break across the 20 mark … and dreamed of higher.
Connecting people with God is not a numbers game. I get that. But having viable numbers does help. It does make a difference to come into a buzzing room of 20 or 30people rather than into an echoey hall of 6 or 7.

We need to reflect on whether this tells us anything as a church community.
It tells us some families will come to one of events.
It tells us that Christingle is attractive to a variety of age groups, and not just to people with children.
It tells us that some people, like us, are looking for some kind of intentional christian community.
it also tells us we have a lot of work to do here!

HTGP has a little break now until the new year. Our next Sunday service will be on the 8th January and the next Agapai will be on Wednesday 11th January …. get in touch if you are interested.

 

Christingle

band_1-275x356Todays we are holding a Christingle at HTGP.

We have done a lot of advertising via social media and given card invitations to the parents at the school I am chaplain at … it’s another part of our hypothesis testing of seeing if people here want to come together to mark certain times.

I hope people come today.
We have a shed load of oranges, we have candles, ribbon, currants, sweets … yes … everything you need for a Christingle.
We also have little collection boxes for The Children’s Society. It’s shocking to see so many vulnerable and homeless children and this is one way to support a great organisation that is making a difference in young peoples lives.

This will be a great event this afternoon with Christingles, carols, mulled wine and mice pies ….. all welcome!

God … with us

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2014

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.