Y Christmas?


I was speaking at the YMCA carol service last night. This is what I said….

Last week I did a really embarrassing thing. I gave a teddy bear as a gift to a man! I have never done it before and don’t plan on ever repeating the experience. The reason was he had had a dream about a teddy that I think was very significant and contained a profound message from God. I don’t want him to forget it so thought this gift would help with the remembering.  

So what has this got to do with the question we are considering tonight, Y Christmas?

Well there are a couple of things. Firstly, dreams are vital to the Christmas story. Matthew chapter 1, verses 18-24 says,”This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,”Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”…When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…” The wise men are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod having seen the Christ child (2:12) and “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (2:13).” How different it would have been if Joseph had discounted his dreams and blamed them on too much cheese the night before!

Secondly, giving presents makes us vulnerable. I felt really embarrassed handing over my gift and was incredibly anxious about the reaction I was going to get. That’s because there is always the potential for rejection when we have invested in giving something that shows how much we know and care about the person who’s receiving it. God gave us the ultimate present that first Christmas.  The gift of His son wrapped in human flesh. He knew us so intimately and cared so passionately for us that he gave us the means of having eternal life and an unbreakable friendship with the creator of the universe. But Jesus did not come in glory as the King He is, but in weakness, emptied of His power and totally dependent on His parents to meet His most basic needs. The divine could not have been more defenceless! But also, just like every other gift we’re given we can choose not to receive Him and reject the person who has made the offering. I remember my Dad telling me when I was a child that you don’t just get a present but you actually have to receive it.What does that mean? I think it means wearing the silver necklace when you like gold, displaying the ornament even it is not exactly to your taste or putting on the hideous reindeer jumper that has been lovingly knitted for you to wear at the annual Boxing Day curry buffet! It’s the same with Jesus – we can receive Him into our hearts and begin a relationship with Him that transforms us into the best version of ourselves that’s possible or we can go it alone and dismiss Emmanuel, the God who is with us (1:23).

And finally celebrating Christmas is about remembering. For many of us Christmas is a difficult time of year because we remember experiences that have left us wounded and disappointed. We are aware of people we’ve loved and spent Christmas with in the past who are no longer with us. And I don’t think we have to deny that and pretend everything is as it should be when our reality is very far from what we want or would choose. However, Christmas is about remembering that no matter how difficult our circumstances God is present. He is not distant, wagging a finger and telling us ‘I told you so’ when we mess up. He is a God who identifies with our weaknesses because He has been human and lived our frailties. But as well as coming near, Jesus is God, our Saviour. He did not stay a baby. He became a man who preached about a new age where there will be justice and peace, no more disease, death or despair. When we truly receive Him as a gift our problems don’t just disappear but He is able to bring goodness and positive change in the midst of our attempts to overcome them.  

Y Christmas? It’s simple – hope. Hope that God does not leave us or forsake us. Hope that another, better world is possible. Hope that we can be transformed as we confront our fear and brokenness. So this Christmas having understood why, take the risk, make some space and invite God’s hope to be born afresh in you.

Thanks to Jonny Baker for the photo.


Took on flesh


I went to see Top Hat on Friday evening to celebrate my husband’s birthday.  It was a wonderful show and a real feast for the senses.  But I realised a short way in that I was feeling strangely disconnected.  Having watched so much singing and dancing on the TV, it didn’t seem real.  I felt like a distant observer rather than an engaged participant at a live event.  In this regard, I am not alone but a victim of our culture.  That is according to two fantastic authors who have influenced my thinking greatly, Gerry Arbuckle and Mike Frost, both of whom I got to hear ‘in the flesh’ last week.  Arbuckle talked about our propensity for tourism as consumers and Frost how we excarnate or pare down to the bone our experience of life and community such that they remain superficial and transitory.


So in this season of advent when we celebrate God taking on flesh, becoming so enmeshed in human existence that He shares our vulnerability and must rely on others for His very survival, I am convicted of my own detachment from the beauty and the mess I too have been called to embrace and embody.  Even the Christmas story itself has become so familiar that it loses the power to shock and astound.  But as I have prepared a service of advent for Kingston University and a prayer room at the YMCA, I have begun to be struck and challenged afresh.  Think of poor Zechariah!  He and his wife Elizabeth had given up all hope of having a child.  But when an angel tells him that she will bear him a son, he is made dumb for his cynicism and disbelief!  Or put yourself in the place of Joseph for a moment, promised in marriage to a teenage girl only to discover she is pregnant!  What must he have felt and what would have been the reactions of the community around him?  Yet having been visited by an angel in a dream, he believes Mary’s account of an immaculate conception and accepts her as his wife.  The nativity narrative has been romanticised and sanitised so that the meaning and sheer audacity of God in His intervention in human affairs has been utterly lost.


So how do we recover our wonder at the divine mystery, as well as truly indwell our humanity?  Well as my counsellor always says, the first step is to become aware!  Having done that I would suggest the next might be to intentionally choose to be present and then not run from the inevitable insecurities that arise.  As I am told Rudolph Bahro said, “…be insecure in order to be adventurous.”  In this we truly model Christ.  There can have been nothing more insecure or adventurous to allow Himself to be born to a Jewish virgin, under Roman occupation, in an animal shelter.  As Jesus allowed himself to be emptied out for our sake, so we can face our own emptiness. In so doing, we find space for the real gift of Christmas – Emmanuel, the God who is with us.