Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve, Family Feud and Bethlehem Town

This week I asked people on Facebook to share their favourite Christmas movies.

So now, it’s a bit like family Feud...

Who thinks they can guess what’s behind the pieces of card board.

Top 8 Christmas movies

It’s a wonderful Life
A Christmas Carol
Miracle on 34th Street
The Santa Clause
The Grinch
Polar express

As I was thinking about these movies and I confess I have not seen all of them recently one of the things that struck me was that most of them have an element of the magical or supernatural about them. 

With amazing special effects and script writing we imagine Hollywood magic can take us anywhere.

It seems we long for the miraculous moment; the supernatural intervention; the miracle of the divine.  It is found in our obsession with all things magical at Christmas – we gaze at a star in East, we think about angels and amazing miracles; we sentimentalise the story and we make it fantastical. 

Yet running counter to this theme of the supernatural I have to admit I do like the retelling of the Christmas story as we heard it tonight from Andrew McDonough: Bethlehem Town

McDonough gives us a more realistic retelling.  Mary and Joseph probably stayed with relatives, the architecture of the first century Middle East meant the animals were inside the houses with the people, when the baby was born the men, including Joseph, were kicked out and the local women, probably relatives, came in to help. 

For many of us it is not the story we have been indoctrinated with but the archaeological and Biblical evidence suggest this is a better retelling than inns filled with strangers and wooden stables out the back.

The coming of Jesus into the world does have its supernatural moments, like the angels in the fields, but part of what Luke was trying to say is that Jesus birth was earthy and real and normal for the time in which he lived.

For me there is a reversal going on here.  Not us longing for the divine and the spectacular but God, the divine, longing for us, seeking for us, coming to be with us.  God wants to share in the mundane and might I say the hidden spectacular reality of human existence. By becoming one of us and sharing our life God reminds us that what God has made was good and more to the point that what God desires for us is life in all its fullness.

When the angels came announcing good news to the shepherds they didn’t say a Saviour is born so you can have a better afterlife or the Messiah is here so you can go to heaven and avoid hell.

No, the first concern of the angels was peace on earth!  Salvation was about what was going to happen to them in this life.

Of course, there is a bigger story at play and there are promises made elsewhere in the Scriptures about what happens after we die but these should intrude on this story nor take away from the affirmation and promise of fullness of life now.

This brings me back to all those movies I mentioned before and in particular two of them.  The old movie and favourite of many It’s a wonderful life is about the main character George Bailey discovering that his life meant something, that despite him missing out on many of his personal desires, the knock on effect of how he had lived and meant positive outcomes for so many others.

Salvation in the movie for him was not about him being rewarded with going to heaven but with being rewarded with the realisation of how wonderful his life had been.  It was in one sense about discovering gratitude for the life that he had.

Many of you will have had difficult lives, and often terrible moments within them.  Often these are times we ask in desolation where is God in all of this, why have you abandoned me.  Sometimes our prayers for healing and pain to stop seem to go unanswered.

On the other hand some of you may have not yet experienced great hardships yet in your life.  You may take what you have for granted and may not fully understand just how blessed you are.

The message of Christmas is about how God seeks to come alongside us to be with us in those tragic and difficult moments and to help us to find gratitude for the gift of life when things are going well.

In a similar way the movie A Christmas Carol and its various adaptations are about the key character Scrooge realising that his life too could mean something to others and that through his transformation others could rejoice more fully in life.

The message of transformation is part of the Christmas story as well.  Mary and Joseph were changed.  The shepherds were change.  And we can be changed by this encounter too.

Jesus birth to me is about God’s longing for us, for you, to live, to live fully, to live gratefully, to live mundanely in the everyday wonder of our existence seeing with hope beyond the terrible tragedies that God is inviting us all as humanity to live well, to live better and so encounter salvation in this life as we hope for it in the next.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will encounter the deep truth of God’s love for you: God become like you to affirm your existence and to share in all of the joys, sorrows and challenges of our human life and thereby make each moment that we live holy. 

May you catch a glimpse of the divine in the ordinary and extraordinary this Christmas!

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