Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas Day 2015 – The Journey

The Journey

What is the most exciting thing happening this Christmas?
What about the most exciting thing for people living in the UK?
Not the latest gadget, Not a shiny new toy, but a journey…one over many years and thousands of miles…
It is the story of Tim Peake the first British European Space Agency astronaut.
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The man from Earth to space…some facts about Tim
– he was a test pilot for the RAF and clocked up 3000 flying hours. In 2009 he beat 8000 other people to join the ESAs astronaut training programme.
– During launch, as per tradition, each cosmonaut was allowed three songs to be played to them. Tim chose Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, U2’s “Beautiful Day” and Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars”.
– His first meal at the ISS was a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.
– He is now travelling at 17,150 miles an hour, one mile every 5 seconds, and completes 16 orbits of the earth every day 205-270 miles above the earth.
The man from heaven to earth…
If we think of another traveller, celebrating his birthday today…he came from heaven to earth. John chapter 1 tells us that before He was born He existed. The Son of God came from existing for all eternity in heaven to be a little baby boy.
An incredible journey that was planned all the way back in Genesis 3.15… I will put enmity between…He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.
Some facts about Jesus…
– He was born to a woman who was his mother, but he had no human father
– He was a carpenter by trade and lived for 30 years Unknown to the outside world
– He was fully man and fully God in one body…the same essence as the Father and the Spirit.
– He had three years of very popular but controversial ministry and was a victim of a hate campaign to kill him.
So you have these two men – both relatively unknown for most of their adult life, but now thrust into the spotlight. Both men had a  specific mission to fulfil, both had spent years in preparation. However, while they are both an inspiration, only one can change your life at the deepest level.
Three simple things that we can see when we compare Tim Peake with Jesus this Christmas Day:

1. One had Royal blessing, the other Royal persecution

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The first picture here is of a message sent from The Queen to Tim shortly after blast off. The Queen sums up the mood of the nation by saying that we are all proud of what he has accomplished and are right behind him. Not a bad first day on the job!
When we look at Jesus we see that the Royal response is a bit different … The men from the East went to the King expecting him to be celebrating the birth of a new son, instead they find he knows nothing about it. How dare some peasant family claim to give birth to an heir of his throne…so he sets out to find this child and destroy it.
From his earliest time on earth, Jesus divided people. The peace of the nativity scene was soon broken and the young family fled to Egypt. Later in life he would say, I did not come to bring peace but a sword – to divide a father against his son and a mother against her daughter. Not a sword of violence, but of spiritual transparency – to reveal what is already there.
God came into the world and the first thing we need to realise is that he came into a broken world. He found a hurting world, a divided world, a sinful world.

2. The star of one was seen by all, the other by only a select few

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The second picture is of the take off of the Soyuz TMA-19M on 15th December. It took 9 minutes to reach orbit – and this picture was taken by an aeroplane pilot flying from Seoul to Frankfurt. It reminded me of the star in the east that the wise men followed. With the wonders of modern technology this picture has now been retweeted 6,000 times and liked 10,000 times…across the whole world thousands of people are seeing Tim’s star in the sky. 
 
The star over Bethlehem that night was only seen by a few people. Only the men who studied such things spotted it, as far as we know, and followed it. A few people noticed and saw any significance in it. But just because it wasn’t all over Facebook and Twitter, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. God sometimes puts the most precious of gifts in the most obscure and hidden places. 
All these years later we may celebrate it slightly differently but the second key point is that it really did happen. When we search beyond the obvious, and look underneath the superficial, we find that there actually was a real event that actually happened. A real baby, a real mother, a real birth. The start of the most incredible human life ever.

3. One had his blood tested, the other was tested to give all his blood

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The last picture is of one of the other cosmonaut’s taking Tim’s blood. While he is up there he has a host of experiments to do on his own body. Part of it is getting his blood sampled for any changes during space flight. Just a pin prick and a small injection and all done!
For Jesus, his whole life was leading up to the moment when he would pour his blood out for the world he loved. From the moment of his birth his destiny was set – he truly was born to die. The blood that flowed within him was for the healing of the nation’s because it was divine blood, pure blood, perfect blood. Not in a biological sense, but in a moral sense. The life is in the blood we are told in the Old Testament. The perfect offering made as a gift…as a present made at Easter time, has power to cleanse us from all stains. This is the third key point – it cost him everything to undertake his rescue journey.
So this Christmas time, will we pause and take a moment to reflect? Reflect that we live in a broken world, a world that is beautiful but also stained. The dye has run and the colours have bled together. Will we meditate on our powerlessness to do anything to undo what has been done? Will we reflect that this baby was actually born, that it is not a fairy tale or myth, but an historical fact.
Will will take time to study the evidence of his life and death to answer the most important question, who is Jesus? Will we reflect on his sacrifice, at the one time in the year when the background music fades and the rat race momentarily slows down? Will you listen for his voice? He is calling your name, behind the tinsel and turkey and toys, he is calling to you, will you listen?

The unexpected visitor

Highlights from my message from Week 22 of The Story: The Birth of Jesus

I wonder if you have ever had an unexpected visitor? have ever had someone turn up at your door completely unexpected and unannounced. If you could speak to my wife’s parents they would tell you of a strange day a few years ago. A day when someone arrived at their farmhouse – a house in the middle of their farm, a farm which is 45 minutes walk from the nearest bus stop. A bus stop that is about an hour from Lockerbie, which is about three hours from Edinburgh. Well as they stood there doing the dishes after lunch a strange man appeared walking towards them with a smile on his face – coming to see them with a message just for them.

Have you guessed it? Yes, that man was me and the question was – “can I marry your daughter?“! I had booked the day off work and travelled all the way to their farm in rural Dumfriesshire to surprise them and ask for permission to marry their daughter. Do you know what they did? They laughed!

Well in this passage we encounter a similar unexpected guest. This time not with a question, but with an answer. The guest is not a dreamy eyed, idealistic, naïve, love struck young man, but a radiant angel. Not this time with thoughts of hopeful marriage, but of a centuries -long promised birth, not to ask permission but to announce God’s certain purposes.

21 weeks we have been walking through the Old Testament – ups and downs, mainly downs?! Now 400 years of silence and then…BOOM God breaks through. How would we get on waiting 400 years for something? We can’t even wait 4 months! How does a people wait longer than their own lifetime for a promise? Through tradition – stories passed down, poetry recited, songs sung – woven into the fabric of the culture. The weaving keeps them alive, but also “represents” the promises, rather than actually being the same thing. Things are emphasised, other things are pushed to the background, until finally it all becomes folklore and myth. Just a sweet story to tell your children when they can’t sleep, or tell yourself when you are broken by life.

A folklore had developed around the “Messiah”. A warrior king, in the pattern of David to restore the nation of Israel. This is what the people wanted, it what they expected, but it is not what God had in store, at least not how they expected to be rescued.

It would seem that we have a built in desire to believe that somebody one day will rise above the limitations of our human state. We tell stories to each other about a single individual, born at a special moment in time who will change the course of history. One with special abilities, in harmony with nature, able to rise above the mundane, able to overcome our limitations, one that represents humankind, but is not destined to live as just another human.

maxresdefaultSo we read it in Lord of the Rings – prophecy of the coming king Aragon

The prophecy in Star Wars – the one who will restore balance to the universe, Anakin Skywalker

The prophecy in The Matrix – the chosen one Neo

But all these are fictional, they are Just a fairy tales. Is this only The stuff of films and literature? Where does this desire for a hero come from? I would say that These are all echoes of the original – the One who will come and change our reality. In the same way that our obsession with romantic films echoes the desire in our hearts for a soul mate, so this recurring theme echoes a divine longing that God has put in each of us.

So, the unexpected visitor arrives at our front door and says, get ready, He (capital H) is coming…

he is coming in your lifetime you will see him Mary, 

He is coming with your eyes you will see him Mary

He is coming your arms will hold him Mary

He is coming your body will nurse him Mary

He is coming your womb will protect him Mary

He is coming to your town, to your family, to your body…you are so blessed, so fortunate, so privileged

The promise Adam heard in the garden you will see fulfilled

What was whispered to Abraham in the night sky you will embrace

The vision that overwhelmed Daniel will hold your little finger

The wisdom that formed the earth you will teach to read

What a moment in her life! What a moment in history, this is the defining moment of history, when everything changed, when all our hopelessness was banished forever. Do we wonder at this event? I pray that God would break our familiarity with this great event, that he would free us from years of Christmases.

I want God to break through our hardness and numbness to the incarnation. To really, really contemplate it for just a few minutes. To hold it up before you as something beautiful, like a jewel in the light, that you might marvel at its radiance. Oh that God would help me do just that – who is sufficient for such things? To do justice to the moment when the Son of God – who has no beginning and knows no limitations, squeezed himself into a human body, to forever identify the creator with his creation, to overcome our corruption with his perfection, to breath our air and feel our pain…as a real live human being!