Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone

It's Christmas Eve in the manse. That usually means frantic activity, but this week has actually been quite calm and composed. I still have one sermon to write (Sunday comes along in a few days!), and some presents to wrap, but that apart, the preparation is done. All that remains is to conduct the services that are to come.

There have been lots of highlights already in Christmas events:
  • I was invited to the School nativity plays, one done by primary 2 children and the other by the Nursery; both were brilliantly done, both told the story and both had songs in them that also told us what the story meant and who Jesus was and is; they were made for me by the King in the nursery event who left wearing his crown upside down, the innkeepeer turning his lamp upside down to see how it worked and Mary and Joseph putting the presents in the manger, suffocating Jesus under the weight of the gold!!!
  • The Primary School Service was held in the Church last Friday - it was packed; there were no seats left with the number of parents and others who came to join us.
  • Our Kids Church and Youth Group Nativity play on Sunday - "We were young once" was fantastic; we have a small number of children around on Sundays, but they were brilliant in all that they did. Equally brilliant was the fact that we had so many families in Church with young children; we even had two 2-year old boys running up and down the aisle during the service. That hasn't happened for a while; are we seeing a new generation of families coming to be part of our Church? We really hope so!
  • Finally, on Sunday evening we had a very different event, our lessons and carols service. The Choir had 5 pieces to sing for us, as well as the usual list of readings and an odd sketch that lifted the lid on Christmas in a different way. The Choir sang beautifully; the power and harmony of their singing was a joy to hear, even for my untrained ear.

In the few weeks before Christmas, I sit down with my calendar and plan out all of the services, which carols we will sing, which readings we will have, so that there is some kind of balance across the whole season. I try to find themes for these services that will all reflect the nature of the event as well as something insightful to say. Jim Philip, once minister of Holyrood Abbey Church in the city used to say that it was much more important to find something true to say rather than to find something new; of course, he is absolutely right. Mind you, I love trying to find ways that are both new and true!

This morning, we were trying to imagine what it would be like for someone to hear these stories and readings for the first time, but we couldn't do it; these things have been so much part of our lives since we were young. Nonetheless, it is my prayer that there will be people hearing these things for the first time and that as they hear these stories, the God of whom the stories speak will be at work in their hearts and minds to persuade them of something true about Jesus.

The eternal God who stands at the beginning of history, who stands at the root of the universe, once came into our world to save us. Jesus came into our world to be the light of the world, to give us life in all its fullnes, to take away our sins and bring us to God. At Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. Don't lose sight of that truth today.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the new-born King,
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!’
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem’.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the new-born King.’

Friday, 12 December 2008

Watch your tongue!

It's a stupid thing to say! Watch your tongue? You need to be a contortionist or look in the mirror to watch your tongue! Bite your tongue? Ouch!

I was at Currie High School on Monday evening. We had tickets for Back to the Eighties, this year's school Christmas show. The story line wasn't the most complicated plot ever to be devised, but more of an excuse to join up as many Eighties' songs as you could fit into 2 hours and a bit. It was performed with great enthusiasm and gusto. More than 50 pupils, ably aided and abetted by a few teachers, performed the show, ran the sound and lighting, sold the programmes and so on.

Thursday and Friday saw me visit the Primary School and the School Nursery for Nativity Plays. The Primary 2 classes performed Born in the Barn with a wonderful enthusiasm and sense of fun and the Nursery were just themselves, charming the socks off their parents. One of the kings left with his crown upside down; the innkeeper was trying to take the lantern to bits to see how it worked; and Mary and Joseph put the presents from the wise men into the manger and crushed the Baby!

All credit to two groups of people who are much-maligned at times - young people and school teachers. We write off our young people so easily, effectively tarring everyone with the brush of bad publicity that comes from the small minority of young people whose stories hit the news headlines for all the wrong reasons. We criticise our school teachers for producing the same young people! Yet, every time I visit school, which is always for an hour at the most, I'm glad that I can leave after an hour. I could not do their job and I have enormous respect for those who do what I know I could not do.

There is a prayer that comes from Native American culture that goes something like this: "Do not criticise your brother till you have walked a mile in his moccasins." It is easy to have a view or an opinion about all kinds of things without really knowing what we're talking about and once it has been said, it cannot be unsaid. Little wonder James describes the tongue as "a fire" and "a restless evil." No wonder we were advised to watch it or bite it!

A dying man invited his friend to come to visit him. He knew that he was dying, but he had something that he needed to say. When his friend came to the house, he gave him a feather pillow and asked him to empty it all over the floor. His friend thought this a very strange request, but to honour the dying man's wish he complied. Once the feathers were all over the floor, his friend said "now pick up all these feathers for me!" His friend said "That's not possible; I can't pick them all up; there are too many and they are well-scattered." The man said "But that's what you did to me; you criticised me needlessly to my friends when you spoke things about me that were not true; you took away my good name and reputation and once you did that it could not be given back to me."

Christians are supposed to be caring people, but I am constantly amazed at the thoughtless and hurtful things that Christians will say to one another and to other people. It can never be unsaid; once it is out, it out for good. You may have an opinion, but think carefully before you express it and to whom you express it. You may criticise if you are so moved, but before you criticise someone, walk a mile in their moccasins; look at life from where they sit.

Watch your tongue and bite it - you can't do them both at the same time, can you?