Monthly Archives: December 2008
… to quote an old Steve Turner poem. Well it will be tomorrow for me. I’m not posting a sermon on the blog tonight, because neither of my services tomorrow demands one. In fact, they demand I don’t deliver a typical sermon.
In the morning, I sit in on a nativity service at one of my churches. The Sunday School will perform some drama, my Anglican colleague will lead the service, and I get to give a short talk.
I’ve drawn on an idea from a new book that I’d like to recommend as a useful resource at this time of year for preachers, ministers, worship leaders and musicians. It’s co-written by Lucy Moore of Messy Church fame, along with Martyn Payne. It’s called Bethlehem Carols Unpacked: Creative ideas for Christmas carol services. The book tells the background stories to eleven famous carols and then gives ideas for how to use them in worship, be it ‘adult’ or ‘all age’.
So I looked up the carols that my colleague Jane had chosen and adapted an idea for use with children in connection with The First Nowell. It’s a simple idea around the theme of birthday parties. What kind of people do you invite to your birthday party? God invited the most unlikely of people to celebrate the birth of his Son. The shepherds were ‘unclean’ and the magi were Gentiles. Those you would think more likely either just gave academic answers and did nothing (Herod’s scholarly advisers) or actively opposed Jesus (Herod). We have an ongoing party with Jesus: it’s called the kingdom of God. And it’s our privilege to invite all sorts of unlikely people to join that party. Were I expanding this I might draw in the Parable of the Great Banquet to give something for the adults to chew on, but I probably won’t have time.
Then in the afternoon I have a Christingle service. Although the (Church of England) Children’s Society is largely responsible for introducing this service to the UK in recent years, it is very appropriate for Methodists to celebrate, because its origins are Moravian from 1747. The Moravians, of course, were highly significant in influencing John Wesley towards his ‘warmed heart’ experience of 1738.
For those who don’t know the tradition, there is plenty to fill you in on the web, but briefly everyone is given a decorated orange. Each part is symbolic. The orange stands for the world, so we shall begin by thanking God for creation. The fruits (e.g., dried raisins) and sweets attached on a cocktail stick represent God’s good gifts. We shall lead that in the direction of Jesus being God’s best gift. The ribbon is for the blood of Christ, so I get the difficult part of the service where I have to lead a brief, simple prayer thanking God for the death of Jesus. Finally, the candle is for Jesus the light of the world, and as we light one another’s candles while standing together in a circle we enact our rôle as lights in the world, sharing the light of Christ.
Afterwards, we’ve invited everyone to stay for a free family tea of sandwiches and cakes. We’re hoping that our publicity to two local primary schools and the pre-school that uses our school hall will make for contact with plenty of non-church people.
Say a prayer for us, will you? This church hasn’t had a Christingle in years. It’s a new event to many, however old hat it is elsewhere. It is requiring hard work from many people.
One of my churches in the last appointment had to run two identical Christingle services every Christmas Eve, because it was so popular. They had a publicity advantage in being smack next door to a big supermarket, and also with the timing of Christmas Eve afternoon, when families might specifically look for a child-friendly Christmas celebration. We don’t have either of those factors in our favour, and couldn’t have gone for Christmas Eve due to a highly successful crib service every year at the parish church. But we do want to bless the community with God’s love and build our relationships with them. It was striking at our last Messy Church event a couple of weeks ago how the fact that we insisted on not charging made an impact on some parents. We want to bless them with a Gospel message and Gospel action tomorrow.
So if you could squeeze in a prayer, we’d be ever so grateful. Please leave a brief message in the comments section below to let us know you have said a quick prayer: it will encourage us. And obviously, feel free to offer any other comments in the usual way.
(Yes, I’m ditching the one-word post titles.)
There’s usually a story like this every December. This year, the Daily Telegraph reports that Australian astronomer Dave Reneke has calculated that Jesus was born on 17th June, 2 BC. I expect the science is all right, but what I do know is that the integration with the Bible – much vaunted in the article – is flawed.
Like Reneke, I don’t see this as undermining faith, but as boosting it – if only the theological side were right. It has long been suggested that the star the Magi followed was some kind of planetary conjunction, so to posit such an event between Venus and Jupiter in the night skies over Palestine at around the right time is nothing new.
My problem comes in making an assumption about dating Jesus’ birth from it. The article claims (without substantiation) that the best guesses for Jesus’ birth are in the 3 BC to 1 AD region. This surprised me, but perhaps scholarship has moved on from what I previously learnt, where a date nearer 6 BC was thought likely. However, the real fault is using the appearance of the star as a marker for the actual birth.
Why? Well, it’s interesting that Mr Reneke claims to work from Matthew’s Gospel, which tells the story of the Magi. He wrongly assumes they arrive (just like children’s nativity plays) at the time of the birth, along with the shepherds. You’ve seen the tableaux of a crowded manger scene, you know what I mean.
However, there is clear evidence in Matthew 2 that the Magi arrive later. First of all, in the Greek Jesus is no longer described as a baby but as a young child – a toddler, perhaps. Moreover, when Herod the Great hears about the birth of a new ‘King of the Jews’, his psychopathic order is to slaughter all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two. It fits with the thought that Jesus had not been born in the immediately preceding time to the Magi’s arrival.
Others add further evidence that I don’t find convincing. They point out that in Matthew, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are now living in a house, not at the back of an inn, as when he was born, according to Luke. This implies they have moved on to a home, probably belonging to one of Joseph’s relatives. This evidence is unnecessary and also flawed. As Kenneth Bailey pointed out many years ago, Luke doesn’t use the Greek word for ‘inn’ in chapter 2 of his Gospel – he uses that later, when he recounts the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The word in chapter 2 isn’t the normal one for ‘house’ either, but it is more likely meant to be that, given the importance of hospitality in the culture. It would have been unthinkable for Joseph’s family not to put up him and his pregnant wife, even if it meant sharing the space with the family animals. It then appears from Matthew 2 that they remain there for a considerable season after the birth, rather than moving in with the relatives from a commercial inn. I suspect the KJV translators were too enamoured with the coaching inns of their day, and it became a traditional English translation.
But either way, I am convinced Jesus was more like a toddler by the time the Magi arrived. Dave Reneke may put the conjunction at 17 June 2 BC, but that theologically presupposes a birth a year or two earlier than that. If the science is right, then my old 6 BC date is out of the window – although one would need to bear in mind what we know about the regularity of the Roman taxation census every fourteen years, so I’m not ready to ditch it completely yet.
The real problem with the findings and the reporting of the research is a failure of dialogue between science and theology. The last thing I would do is question Reneke’s credibility as an astronomer, and I have no problem whatsoever with his motives. However, a little conversation with a New Testament scholar would have got us away from sensational claims about finding Jesus’ date of birth. We know it wasn’t 25th December, but Reneke’s research brings us no nearer knowing the actual date.
Worse than this – and this is not Reneke’s fault – is a glaring example of dumbing-down in the Telegraph. It’s a newspaper that usually rails against such attitudes, but the article contains a terrible example of it. Paragraph 3 reads:
If the team is correct, it would mean Jesus was a Gemini, not a Capricorn as previously believed.
Oh, spare me. Not only does this pander to contemporary credulity about astrology, it also risks the popular idiocy of muddling astronomy and astrology. My father reads the Telegraph. He is a member of the British Astronomical Association. If he has seen this piece, he will suddenly find himself in need of medication for hypertension.
Here are some more places I stopped on my electronic travels this week. Several of these links come from Leadership Journal, because I’ve been catching up on a few weeks’ worth of the Leadership Weekly email they send out over the last couple of days.
Some pictures from the Hubble telescope. Get beyond the first few and you’ll see some amazing ones. I’ve just made the image of the Sombrero Galaxy my desktop background.
Take seven minutes and forty seconds of your time to listen to Archbishop John Sentamu speak on the Advent theme of waiting.
A moving description of happiness from Ben Witherington III.
In Bedside Manner, Matt Lumpkin offers advice on caring for the sick and for yourself during pastoral visiting in hospital.
David Keen looks at Back To Church Sunday and considers what proportion of the population is open to evangelism of a ‘come to us’ approach, compared with the need for a ‘missional’ strategy. (Via blogs4god.)
Coming and going is an interview that contrasts the attractional and missional approaches to evangelism and church. In the attractional corner, Ed Young, ‘the dude with the food’, ‘the worship event is the port of entry to the church’, ‘I believe God gives one person the vision – the pastor.’ In the missional corner, Neil Cole, ‘Using traditional [church] planting methods, it would cost $80 billion to reach Atlanta’, ‘Three things deter spontaneous multiplication: buildings, budgets, and big shots’, ‘We have to think in terms of mobilizing the kingdom to go where people are. Too many Christians are passive and unengaged.’
Walt Kallestad gave up on attractional with the big show and transitioned to a discipleship model.
On the other hand, Dan Kimball (of all people) has expressed missional misgivings and particularly urged missional churches not to criticise attractional congregations.
According to Christian Aid, ethical giving hasn’t been hit by the credit crunch.
Also on the credit crunch, Gordon Macdonald says this is no time to cower for the Christian church. His fifth and sixth ideas sound very close to what many ‘missional’ Christians have been advocating.
Think tank Theos has published research showing that one in three Britons believes in the virgin birth. Of course, just believing a doctrine isn’t enough …
Communion wine from Bethlehem is being stopped at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers who deem it – wait for it – a security risk.