Tag Archives: Advent

Clearing up after Christ-mas

Occasionally I receive feedback on what I publish. It would appear that my article The Reason for the Season caused a little consternation.  I’m sorry for the confusion.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t explain myself, but the feedback indicates to me that sufficient numbers of people found my words rather strange or concerning to make me feel that perhaps I should shed some light on the subject so people are not unnecessarily upset.  I say “unnecessarily” because if this article clears up the mystery for them and they are then disturbed by the clear message, then perhaps it is ultimately a good thing that they be unsettled!  (It is not my job to say what everyone wants me to say, but rather to bear faithful witness to Jesus who came 2000 years ago as Saviour and who will come again as Judge.)

So, what caused grief for readers?  Well, in conversation with one person, I realised that the non-word “mas” that I used over and over again sounds rather like “mass”, which is a Roman Catholic form of worship.  But I wasn’t making any point either in favour of or against Roman Catholicism.  The clue to the interpretation of the article is not connected with the “mas” bit at all.  In fact, the clue is in the question, “What did I leave out?”

On twenty-two separate occasions, I referred to Christmas as “mas”, thus leaving out the first six letters of the full word that readers might have expected to see.  I wrote about “mas”, leaving out “Christ”.  I talked about all of the trappings of our usual celebrations of Christmas but I left out Christ.  And I suggested that in the same way as this was rather ridiculous for my magazine article, so any celebration of Christmas which left out Christ would be equally ridiculous.  Let’s face it, Christmas starts with Christ!

Yet, in a ComRes poll from December 2010, 51% of the respondents agreed with the statement, “The birth of Jesus is irrelevant to my Christmas.”  This would indicate that over half the population of this “Christian” country have no interest in Christ Jesus at what is almost certainly the biggest Christian festival of the year.  When we overlay this with the results of the 2011 census, in which 59.3% of the population claimed to be Christian, we are left with the curious fact that around 8% of the population call themselves Christian yet see the birth of Jesus as irrelevant to their Christmas.  Now that is truly ridiculous!

My intention in the original article was not to confuse, but to cause people to think.  I also did not intend to offend (though I recognise that connecting the Christmas celebrations of 51% of the population and the word “ridiculous” may have had this effect).  On reflection, perhaps ridiculous is the wrong word: if the Christian claim that Jesus is Saviour and Judge is true, then dismissing his birth as irrelevant is more than ridiculous; it’s just asking for trouble.  And I, for one, would rather spare people that.

May the Christ of Christ-mas make you ready to meet him when he comes again.

Preparing for Christmas

So, here we are, half way through Exploretumn and the nights have really drawn in.  I guess it’s round about now that most people start thinking more seriously about Christmas.  Office parties are being booked, town-centre lights are being erected, and we’re conscious that time is pressing on – if we don’t get the cards written soon, the intended recipients will not know we’ve been thinking about them.   This season of preparation has a lot in common with the church’s season of Advent, which begins four Sundays before Christmas (1st December this year) and in which Christians look forward to the Christmas Day celebration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  One of the similarities between the seasons is that there’s a clear end-point to both: it’s quite plain that Christmas shopping must be complete by Christmas Day; and the season of Advent is defined as ending as Christmas Eve wanes.  There’s no avoiding the fact that Christmas Day is definitely the end of the pre-Christmas season!

But there’s a difference between the seasons too.  As well as helping Christians prepare for the celebration of when God became a man in Jesus to rescue sinners and make them his children again, the season of Advent has a second purpose.  Remembering Jesus’ birth is only part of the deal – Christians also look forward to his return as judge and king at the end of history.  Preparing for this is slightly more difficult than preparing for a Christmas celebration; “the end of history” has a date and is therefore a deadline every bit as definite as “Christmas Day”, but nobody actually knows what that date is.

For most people, this uncertainty tends to result in an understanding that “the end of history” is a long way in the future – so far, in fact, that it is of very little relevance.  And because it is so far in the future, most people – even the super-organised ones – put the task of preparing for it a long way down their list of priorities.  Indeed, I would venture to suggest that very few people give it much thought at all.  Now you might think that it is a bit bold of me to make such a sweeping claim, but I do so on the basis of surveys that have been conducted recently into people’s attitudes to Christmas itself.  Apparently, in the UK, just 12 per cent of adults know the nativity story, and more than one-third of children don’t know whose birthday we are celebrating at Christmas.  In what many still like to regard as a Christian country, a staggering 51 per cent of people now say the birth of Jesus is irrelevant to their Christmas.  I reason that if people are not including Christ in their Christmas despite the Christian heritage of our nation, they almost certainly aren’t thinking about his return.

Jesus himself advises that this is a terrible mistake.  He describes the day of his return as coming “like a thief in the night.”  The image he uses is deliberately shocking in order to wake us up and make us take notice.  He will come suddenly, without further warning – we are already on notice.  On this basis, the sensible thing to do is to put the task of preparing for his return at the top of our priorities so that we are ready when he comes, whenever that is.  So, will you spend the next hour searching the internet for the perfect Christmas gift-wrap, or would it be worth spending some time reflecting on your relationship with God?

Christmas is coming, and so is Christ – may you all be ready!

Moving the goalposts

As a parent and a parish priest I have been involved in a number of schools up and down the country.  As a school governor I’ve even been involved in a couple of Ofsted inspections.  One thing I have noticed is that, in the quest to raise standards, judgement criteria change fairly frequently, and this is quite challenging for schools.  The phrase, “moving the goalposts” springs to mind.

Praise God, then, that when it comes to our relationship with God, the Bible makes it crystal clear where the goalposts are; about what God expects of us.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt 5:48).  With the target set as high as this, we can be confident that the goalposts won’t move – there’s nowhere higher than perfection!  But it does then beg the question, how will we ever reach our target?

The answer is that on our own we won’t.  None of us will ever be perfect (and even if we think we’re good people, deep down we know we still have dark thoughts and ugly attitudes).  So are we lost, consigned forever to miss the mark?  No, praise God!  The Bible also brings us the good news of hope in Jesus Christ.  Because of his perfection, and by faith in him, we can be counted as children of God.

The Bible is clear about this, but sadly, our hearts find this difficult to take.  We find the idea of coming to Jesus for help somehow offensive; it runs completely against our pride.  And what we end up doing is trying to move the goalposts to suit us.  Each of us imagines they are somewhere slightly different.  For one, it is sufficient that they were baptised as a baby.  For another, the goal is reached by their charitable good deeds.  Others choose to remember that God is love and anticipate, therefore, that he will ultimately turn a blind eye to their sin.  Tragically, they forget he is also just (promising never to acquit the guilty) and holy (unable to look upon sin).  Our attempts to move the goalposts are completely futile.  We can pretend all we like, but they will actually remain where God set them.

We’re fast approaching the season of Advent when the church looks forward to Christ’s return as the judge of all.  But whilst the return of Christ is good news for his friends, it is not good news for those who reject him, and I am anxious for everyone who diminishes his importance.  This month, may I urge you all as a matter of some priority to consider how you relate to him?  Do you trust Jesus to carry you to the goal, or are you trying to move the goalposts?