Sunday 29 December 2013

What a wonderful Christmas!

Thank you Horton and Wraysbury for such an excellent Christmas! The Christmas Tree Festival was a fantastic launch for the season - see previous log. Other events then came very quickly one after another...

The Carol Service on 22 Dec was beautiful and very moving. The choir had clearly worked very hard to produce an excellent sound, but it was more than that - they were passionate about what they sang. It came across as an uplifting time of praise. It was a special blessing to have my colleague Carolyn, who leads Wraysbury Baptist church, and her husband Robin, in the choir for the event. Isn't that how it's supposed to be, with the Christian family coming together in worship? Anyway, their voices really lifted us up.

Then it was the Christingle service at St Michael's. Like the Carol Service, this was absolutely packed with people of all ages. I'd been told I would be amazed, and they weren't wrong! There was a very special atmosphere, sometimes boisterous, sometimes deep and reflective.

Unfortunately Ruth the donkey, star of the event in years past, was too unwell to make it this time, so we gave her our thoughts and a special award of carrots. In Ruth's absence I borrowed a fluffy lamb from Bea and we decided not to call her Baa-naby or Baa-tholomew or Ewe-nice or Lamb-ert but Baa-bara. Isn't she cute? Thank you Bea!

So Baabara helped me tell the story of how the Good Shepherd became a Lamb. You should be able to find her talk on the next post.

Midnight Mass back at St Andrew's was another occasion with a very special atmosphere. Attendance was amazing considering the terrible weather. Even though it was thumping it down and all the puddles in the church path joined together to make one continuous stream, we were packed out again. This time we were a bit more theological and reflected on Christmas changes everything. Our understanding of God, humanity, ourselves and our struggles are all transformed if we take seriously the outworking of God coming to share in our human flesh and blood in Jesus. Again I've put my thoughts in another post.

And God still takes on human form among us today. None of this brilliant Christmas (and there was lots more I haven't got time to write about) would have happened without the enthusiasm, creativity, commitment and sheer hard work of my brothers and sisters, who came into church at all hours, locked up again even later, prayed, sang their hearts out, sorted the hymnbooks, fired our imaginations, brewed coffee, welcomed strangers, turned our church into a wonderland - you name it.

The Bible name for God operating through the unity of his people, with each one playing a very different and vital role, is the body of Christ. We are his hands and feet, his ears and eyes... So Jesus didn't just take flesh and blood long ago at the first Christmas. He takes human form again in Wraysbury and in Horton, today. It's a great thing to be part of. Thank you for letting me be part of it with you this Christmas.

Happy New Year everyone!

Colin x x

Christmas Changes Everything!

Thoughts from the Midnight Mass and Christmas Morning Services 2013

Christmas changes God. Before Christmas, God seems to be a remote figure. Is He an absent father? Is he even an impersonal force? Does he abandon His universe to run on without him?  Does he just harangue us for our many shortcomings? Does he stand by doing nothing while human beings suffer and sin and die?

But after Christmas everything changes! God is no longer distant because he has got stuck in. He has become one of us. In Jesus he takes human form. Christmas tells us that He is not content to love us from afar, to wish us well possibly, but never to that extent of doing something about our plight. Then the story goes on to tell us how deep is God's identification with us, as we watch Jesus grow up, work for his living, laugh and cry, suffer and die for us, so that He might also rise and with his resurrection raise us too.

Christmas changes humanity. Are we just animals, with no purpose in a random universe? Lots of people nowadays seems to think it's a good thing to believe this, that it sets us free from restrictive moral and ethical codes and accountability to a higher power. I wish more people did feel accountability to a higher power though. Maybe it would reduce the greed and reckless contempt for others that have brought about bankers' excesses, politicians' expenses, police lies over Plebgate, phone hacking by our journalists and all the rest. Aren't we weary of the degradation of our public life yet? Where can we recover our integrity from if not from our accountability to God? And what are we doing to our kids when we tell them they are nothing but animals, that there really is no point whatever to their existence? I believe our humanity revolts against this tyrannical teaching.

But after Christmas everything changes! Christmas tells us that we are special, that God became one of us and that therefore our faltering, uncertain, confusing human life with all its ups and downs is a fit vehicle for divinity. God doesn't work in spite of our humanity, as some faiths teach, but because of it! We don't have to become depersonalised to know him and serve Him, in fact we are missing the point of Christmas completely if we do that. After Christmas there is no human being, however wrecked they might be by the storms and trouble of life, who is not of infinite value. Believe me I have met some human wrecks in 25 years of ministry! The humanity taken by Jesus at Christmas proves that we will never meet anyone who is beyond the love of God. That is a call to compassion, because this person too shares the humanity of Jesus. This is something we have to take very, very seriously at Christmas time and always.

Christmas changes our suffering. Everything about the first Christmas - the homelessness, the stable, the poverty, the desperate political situation that led Jesus' family to flee to Egypt to seek asylum, looks ahead to his career as the Man of Sorrows - the story of His rejection, the suffering, the cross...

But after Christmas everything changes! We still don't know the answers. Why was I rejected like that? Why did my brother have to die so young and tragically? Why did my mother have to suffer such a terrible illness? But because of Christmas we now know for certain that God understands the question. He's in there with us. He came at Christmas to share in our sorrow and pain.

So if it changes everything else, Christmas also changes us. God didn't come into the world at Christmas just to give us a pretty story to tell, about long ago, far off things, with a baby, fluffy animals and angels in it. He came to change us. So when that change happens, the Christmas story is still being told today. Whenever anybody turns to Christ and decides to follow him, whenever we act in his compassion towards our fellow human beings, whenever we invite Jesus into our hearts and let him be part of our lives, then that story of Jesus continues to be told through us.

But he won't change us against our will. He didn't come as a tyrant, to force us to follow him through his overwhelming power. He came in weakness, a vulnerable, dependent child, to see if we would choose him.

So what do you choose today? To go with the secularisers and let Tesco's and tinsel take over your Christmas - and perhaps your life? Or to choose the One who changes everything?
How the Shepherd became a lamb...

Baa-bara's thoughts from the Christingle at Horton this Christmas

I'm really sorry we can't have a donkey this year. I've heard all about Ruth and how she comes to the Christingle to see us every year, but sadly this time she isn't well enough to come.

So I've brought along a little Lamb instead. Do you want to see? Here we are! I borrowed this lovely fluffy lamb from Bea. Trouble is, I can't remember the name. Do you want to help me choose a name, just for today's talk? Vote for one of these…
·         Baa-naby? Baa-tholomew? or for a girl lamb, Baa-bara? or Ewe-nice? How about Lamb-bert?

So just think of a little lamb, just like Baa-bara, out there on the hills one winter night, long ago, with those shepherds. Suddenly a bright light blazes from heaven and the angels appear and send the shepherds to go and find baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Did you know last year Elisa and I went to Bethlehem and visited the place where it was supposed to have happened? I even have some stones from that very field…

I think God had very special reasons for choosing shepherds to be the very first people to hear the good news that Jesus has come into the world. 
·         because they were ordinary: those shepherds were not celebrities, not kings or presidents, not fashion icons. They had no degree in theology, they were not particularly holy – they were very, very ordinary, down to earth people. You see, Jesus came for ordinary people. So you don't have to be Frank Lampard or Princess Ewe-genie or drive a Lamb-orghini for God to love you. He loves you already, just as you are.
·       and because God is a shepherd too - The Lord is my shepherd.

Now I like to think that when the shepherds heard the angels' message and went to see baby Jesus, they took a lamb just like Baa-bara with them, to see baby Jesus too. Because as well as being a shepherd, Jesus is also the Lamb of God.
·         It means he was an innocent baby and would continue to be without sin.
·         It means he came to redeem all creation, animals and nature as well as people
·         but much more than that, it means he would be sacrificed to take away our sins.

Now those sacrifices never worked! The people had to keep on doing them, day after day and year after year. But when Jesus the Lamb of God died for us on the cross, there was no need to sacrifice a lamb any more. So Jesus took the place of all those sacrifices, of all those little lambs just like Baa-bara, in the same way that he took our place when he dies for us on the Cross.

So that's the miracle of Christmas. The shepherd… also became a lamb.

Colin x x

Thursday 19 December 2013

Gibson Gazette - Christmas 2013

What a momentous year of change it's been for us poor, feet-haven't-touched-the-ground, don't know whether we're coming or going Gibsons!

The biggest change of all was the birth of little Isla Elisa on 14 February 2013. What great timing by Saara and Tom! So now we are about to celebrate our first Christmas as grandparents. And what a pleasure it is when she is so cuddly, beautiful, intelligent, cute and altogether lovely… I'll just have to leave you to imagine her as I gather it's not always a good idea to put pictures online - sorry.
 Next was moving to a new church, new community and new part of the world. After eleven years in Walsall the feeling was growing that the things God had calling us to do were largely done, that it was time to make way for new and perhaps younger leadership and fresh vision so that His wonderful people at St Matthew's could go on being renewed, growing and moving forward in Him. And we also needed to be closer to Saara, Tom and Isla, to mum in Brighton, and to my brothers.

It's just that it's been such a wrench. The homesickness really bit when we were sent photos of Ben and Izzie's wedding. There were so many of the people we loved, in a place that has come to mean so much to us, where God has blessed us in very many ways.

But alongside the pain of parting there's no doubt that it has been good to come to Horton and Wraysbury. It's been lovely to be welcomed by such a warm and friendly community, to be part of a loving church with great, prayerful people, and also to see more of my family. When Elisa and I sneak into church by ourselves of an evening to pray quietly we feel God has great things in store for His people and we are going to see Him moving here. But for the moment it's about getting to know people, finding out how everything works, setting up systems and general re-orientation.

A huge change for Elisa has been giving up work, which she did in April not long before we moved. She's built a lot of friendships in Walsall Manor Hospital and some are keeping in touch.

Ben's gap year with Youth With A Mission came to an end in August but not before we had been out to Bolivia to visit. We had an amazing but also exhausting time touring Bolivia and Peru with Ben and Kathryn, who had put together an itinerary for us based on the energy levels and resilience of 19 year olds! Ben and Kathryn are now studying at Redcliffe Bible College in Gloucester.

 We're very near Heathrow airport now so drop in and see us – contact details above.

Lots of love and our best wishes for 2014!

Colin and Elisa x x

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Christmas in Finland

Well, as you might have expected with such an amazing programme, we had a great Christmas Tree Festival at St Andrew's (please see previous post). I can't believe it's so long since I last blogged - really getting into the Christmas rush now...

Anyway, one of the outstanding items was Elisa doing her presentation on Christmas in Finland. Some people who really wanted to see it missed it because of a change in the programme times, so here it is below. I ought to say my wife does it much better live than it appears in cold print.

Good morning everyone. I'd like to tell you all about Christmas where I grew up in Finland. It's very important because Finland is the true home of Christmas. We have reindeer, and snow is guaranteed, but best of all, Finland, as you all should know, is where Father Christmas lives. We call him Joulupukki and he lives with his elves in a secret place called Korvatunturi.

There are many things the same about Christmas in Finland but many things are very different. For one thing, our Christmas seems to be much less commercial than yours in England. Maybe it's because I grew up on a farm but I don't remember the annual shopping frenzy!

Christmas Eve is the busiest day of the season. The whole house must be cleaned from top to bottom to welcome Christmas in. Not only that, but you have to be perfectly clean yourself, so everyone has a hot Christmas sauna.

Just the thing in those freezing Northern winters! If you are a bit mad, like my brother Antti, you can rush outside from the sauna to cool off with a nice refreshing roll in the snow – brrrr! Antti has even persuaded foolish visitors from England, such as my husband, that everyone does it and got them to join in!

Please note everyone in this picture in wearing a swimming costume of some kind!

Nature is never very far away in Finland. One of the loveliest traditions on our farm was to go out into our own forest, choose a tree and bring it fresh into the house on Christmas Eve. The children would get together to decorate it and the lovely smell of the freshly cut tree would fill the house.

Next there would be a very important visitor! In Finland, Father Christmas always comes in person. He is in his own country and he takes his time. He doesn't zoom down chimneys. He comes and knocks on the door and the children have to welcome him in. You can imagine the excitement at my home. There were seven children, me, my five sisters and my brother all desperately waiting for Father Christmas to come!

And when he does arrive, the children have to entertain him. Finnish children sing traditional songs for Father Christmas, and do dances in a ring for him. And then he gives them their presents!

For some reason dad always went out to feed our horse just before Father Christmas came. It happened the same every Christmas! He was always so disappointed when he came back and found he had missed Father Christmas yet again!

Then it's time for Christmas dinner. We don't have turkey for Christmas in Finland, we usually have a great big joint of ham. There are lots of traditional dishes to go with it, like rossoli which is made from beetroot and lantulaatikko which is sort of stewed swede – it's much nicer than it sounds! We also have rice porridge which we think is a great delicacy.

On Christmas Eve we Finns all go to the churchyard to remember people we used to share Christmas with in times past but who are no longer with us. There is a special service where everyone lights candles and puts them by their family graves. The churchyard looks very beautiful and mysterious with the candles flickering in the darkness.

Christmas day itself is much quieter than Christmas Eve – a day to enjoy that pleasant full-up feeling and play with your new gifts. Hopefully also to remember Jesus, God's gift of love to the world.

Do you know, it was at Christmas that I first came to England? God spoke to me very powerfully that I should come here and the only berth I could get was on a ship sailing at Christmas. By that time, I had asked Jesus into my life and I had decided to follow him, wherever He might lead me – and He brought me here! I'll gladly tell you the story later if you ask me. But I think the real meaning of Christmas is when Jesus comes into your heart. That's why He came to earth in the first place, and that's true whether you live in Finland, or England, or anywhere in the world.

I'm going to finish by teaching you to say Happy Christmas in Finnish. After all, if you ever meet Father Christmas, you can greet him in his own language!

Let's try it  - 

Hyvรครค Joulua!