Saturday, 24 December 2011
Christmas has not been the same since they stopped bringing out Lord of the Rings films. For three years every Christmas would involve numerous trips to the cinema to sit through hours and hours of orcs, hobbits and wizards fight over the fate of middle earth. If that doesn’t make you feel festive then nothing will. The final (and longest) instalment is called the Return of the King and revolves around Aragorn (Son of Arathorn) returning to Gondor to take his rightful place as king. As he returns there is the obvious conflict between the current Warden of Gondor (Denethor) and Aragorn as Denethor sees his power and influence passing away. You see the great news of a king returning is also the news which brings confrontation and hostility.
So we come to Isaiah 9 and we read these words and songs start ringing in our ears as we hear this great news of a child who is born. A child who will bring joy, a child who will bring peace, a child who will bring justice and stability and righteousness. We hear of this child who will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and our minds flash forwards to the Christmas story to visions of a baby sat in a manger surrounded by an ever increasing sea of talking animals and we feel suitably festive and a little bit religious and ready to make the most of the coming yuletide.
I can’t help but feel that when we read Isaiah 9 our minds are maybe racing to the wrong place. You see it is true that Jesus’ birth represents the birth talked about here but it’s not easy to see this king in the weakness and ignominy of the stable. Some wise men saw it and brought him gifts for a king. Herod saw it and tried to kill this rival but generally the birth itself looks unthreatening and is easily ignored. If our minds simply go from Isaiah 9 to Jesus’ birth and then stop there I’m not sure the connection is obvious. No to see just how wonderful Isaiah 9 is we have to keep reading.
You see Isaiah 9 is fulfilled in Jesus’ life. When Jesus starts his ministry he starts it by declaring the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel. Now gospel simply means good news. So do you see what Jesus is saying right at the start of it all? He’s saying the good news of Isaiah 9 is here. This kingdom which was promised all those years ago is now at hand and Jesus’ great call is to enter that kingdom. Isaiah 9 reminds us that Jesus did not come simply as an inspiring example of how to be a generally decent kind of bloke but he came as the king of a kingdom and he called people to it.
So we return to where we started. Aragorn returned and he claimed his rightful position as king. He ultimately brought victory to Gondor and through that came peace and prosperity. The king was here and he offered light in darkness, peace in conflict, justice and righteousness in what had become corrupt and self seeking. But when a new king is on the scene then kingdoms will inevitably collide and power will not be given up easily.
It’s maybe taken me a long time to get there but here’s the heart of Isaiah 9 and it’s what should go through our minds every time we hear these words read or sung this Christmas. Christmas is the time when we remember the moment when the Kingdom of God burst into our world. It is a great kingdom, a kingdom of peace, joy, justice, righteousness, prosperity and stability. It’s a kingdom run by a king who can be legitimately called ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ This kingdom is here but it stands against all other kings and all other kingdoms. Jesus repeatedly says you can’t serve him and other things so either Jesus is the king or something else is. Either you’re a part of his kingdom, or you’re not. So I don’t know what the king of your life is – Maybe it’s you? Maybe it’s family? Maybe it’s success? Maybe it’s popularity? Maybe it’s money? I don’t know, but Isaiah 9 reminds us of what Jesus repeatedly said. There is a new kingdom, a better kingdom but if you’re going to be a part of that you do not need to go to church a few times, you don’t need to give a bit of money away, you don’t need to get a bit of religion in your life but you need leave the kingdom you’re in now, you need to reject the king you follow now and you need to find a new kingdom, with a new king and new values and become part of a new people, the people of God. If at Christmas you’re not confronted with a radically different kingdom which forces you to choose your allegiance then you have failed to understand Isaiah 9 and failed to understand Christmas and failed to understand Jesus at all. The good news of the return of the king and a new kingdom must also be the good news which strikes terror into every other king in our lives or it is not good news at all, in fact it’s not even news.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Sunday, 2 October 2011
Saturday, 3 September 2011
Monday, 8 August 2011
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
These words are found in a hymn written by George Mattheson (the story behind why he wrote this is quite incredible but not the point of this blog).
The phrase 'I trace the rainbow through the rain' was one which had never really registered with me before but which I haven' been able to stop thinking about this week. He is referring back to the story of Noah's Ark when the world experienced God's judgment for it's wickedness. In the account of Noah's ark God saw the wickedness of the world and sent rain in judgment. However, following the flood God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow. A promise that he would never again judge the world like this and that the world would continue to enjoy God's blessing.
So this image of tracing the rainbow through the rain is the image of seeking out God's grace, seeking out God's promises even in the midst of difficulties and disasters. These are the words of a man saying that when he is going through hardship rather than concentrating on the 'rain' which is all around him he is going to work hard to find the comfort offered by the rainbow (God's promises).
From our point of view this would look like in the midst of the incredible grief caused by the death of a loved one we would work hard to fix our eyes on God's promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.
This would look like in the midst of illness and suffering we would not become consumed by our pain but rather work hard to instead focus on God's promise of resurrection bodies without pain.
This would look like in the midst of stress at work we don't become obsessed with thinking about or worrying about things at work but instead set our minds on God's promise of perfect rest and rewarding work.
And the symbol of all these promises of God is found at the cross. So if we are to trace the rainbow through the rain we actually are to trace the cross. We are to work hard to see the cross and remember that it acts as God's guarantee of those promises which we need during those difficult times. Tracing rainbows in the midst of rain is a hard thing to do but that is the way which Christians must deal with the difficulties and pain they inevitably go through.
Tuesday, 2 August 2011
Monday, 13 June 2011
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Monday, 23 May 2011
Saturday, 7 May 2011
Saturday, 30 April 2011
Saturday, 23 April 2011
Monday, 4 April 2011
Monday, 21 March 2011
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Monday, 7 March 2011
Thursday, 3 March 2011
Friday, 25 February 2011
It makes sense for people to do this. It is common sense. It is good advice for you to follow apart from in church! Well at least according to the head of churches together I heard on the radio on Tuesday. Chris Evans was questioning him about what he'd been doing at St Andrews University and this guy responded by saying he'd been doing some call and response stuff. So he would say something like 'God is good' and they would respond 'All the time' (I think this is right but I apologise for my liturgical ignorance if it isn't). Chris Evans then asked him whether it mattered if people said it without meaning it to which the guy responded 'Not really' before qualifying it with 'it's better if they do'.
Now I was flabbergasted by this. I mean if it doesn't matter whether people mean it or not then what exactly are we doing. What good can it possibly do to have a whole host of people saying something they don't believe? No wonder people consider church to be a waste of time. It is a waste of time if what you do there is say a few things you don't believe and then go home. When someone from within the church says that what matters is doing some religious stuff rather than what you believe then it only reinforces peoples view about church being all about tradition and ceremony rather than about anything real. I mean after all if what they say isn't real then why should we believe that anything about Christianity is true.
But Christianity is about a real relationship with a real God. There is actually nothing more real than this and so we must ensure that we say what we mean and mean what we say. Simply stating words is of no value but when those words flow out of a real relationship then those words become powerful, encouraging and meaningful. So whether it's liturgy, prayer or singing make sure you say what you mean and mean what you say and if you don't mean it then please don't say it. Until people see that we mean the things we sing, speak, pray, read and listen to then they will fail to see Christianity as anything real, significant or relevant in any way to them!
Friday, 4 February 2011
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
Yes and if you need to know the measure of a man
You simply count his friends'