the weakness in [christmas] love

25 12 2011

Have I been good enough?

Have I been good enough this year? To receive some presents? I wonder what scale I will use to decide. Maybe comparing myself to others. That usually works well in my favour. I’m no Mother Teresa but I’m no Kim Jong Il either… therefore I am good.

Have I been good enough?

Sometimes to make sure we have been good enough to receive good things we draw up charts and lists. Most of these are good things, or at least they start off that way. We might think of the 10 commandments or the law of the land. I haven’t broken any laws, so I’ve been good. Maybe a little speeding, the odd tax dodge and a Blackberry from the back of a lorry but apart from that I’ve been good.

Have I been good enough?

If that is the question we believe that God is asking us – and for many it will be – then can I reassure you that he is not.  God is not interested in whether or not you have been good. What?!? But surely being a Christian is the same as being a good person, isn’t it? Aren’t Christians goody-goodies? Isn’t that what the 10 commandments are all about?

The Christmas story shows us year after tinsel-covered year that God is not interested in whether we are good. Which is lucky because although we might feel we have ‘kept the 10 commandments’, which a lot of people tell me they do because they haven’t killed anyone or been jealous of their neighbours ass we all fall down at the very first one.

When God came into the world taking the form of a human being, demeaning himself and coming down to our fragile, human level, God was saying the rules and the laws are not working and though I love it when you live well and do good the most important thing is not that you are good but that you are love.

Have I been good enough?

To receive from God? You think you need to be good to receive?

If you are carrying guilt that it has been a bad year and you think you haven’t been good enough to receive from God, then think again. The story of Jesus birth and of his life show us that God consistently surprises and gives to people who least expect it and who represent what the world sees as ‘bad people’ – shepherds, tax collectors, prostitutes, unclean people.

It is not too late to receive from God, to turn ourselves to face him and to receive from him.

If you are carrying pride that it has been a good year and that you have done pretty well, so should expect to receive from God some sort of reward, then think again. The story of Jesus life and birth show us that God consistently surprises people who call themselves ‘good’ and humbles them – King Herod, the Pharisees, the religious scholars, the rich.

It is not too late though to humble ourselves and receive from God, to turn ourselves to face him and to receive from him.

John’s gospel talks of Jesus as being the light that gives life,  a light that changes us because it shines into our darkest places and transforms them from darkness to light, whether our greatest darkness is pride or addiction or self-loathing or apathy or fear or abuse or doubt… Christmas is a time to remember God broke into our world in a surprising and reckless way  not that we might be good but that we might love and be loved.

The sting in the tail is that it is much easier to be good than it is to give and receive love, especially God’s love. Which is why so many of us default to trying to be good, instead of allowing ourselves to be loved. Allowing ourselves to be loved is perhaps the hardest thing of all.  That love transforms us and turns us into the best you and me we can be, but it is not a quick fix and it is not easy. But it is worth it.

The weakness in love is it’s greatest strength.

May we be people of the light, people who love and know love, who give and receive love that comes from God the Father revealed in Jesus Christ and living on through the Holy Spirit, people who turn and face God and receive openly from him; may we be people who truly and openly pray O come to us, Abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.

**this is an edited version of my Christmas Eve Midnight Communion talk**


… [ waiting ] …

1 12 2011

I wonder what your symbol of waiting is. The bus stop, train station, school gate; red brake lights, red traffic lights; the egg timer on the computer, the slow-boiling kettle, the long-winded preacher…

We spend a lot of our time … waiting.

I struggle to enjoy waiting. Some might take the opportunity whilst stuck in a traffic jam to pray or worship or something equally holy. I just get cross and put the Foo Fighters on.

Advent is about waiting.  Advent isn’t just ‘that bit before Christmas’, like the check-in desk is to a holiday. And advent isn’t Christmas itself, whatever the shops would have us believe.

Advent is when we remember that the people of Israel waited for their expected Messiah for a very very very long time. And we remember that we are waiting for that Messiah to return again and finally and once and for all sort everything out. So advent is definitely not just the bit before Christmas.

There’s a lot of biblical precedent for waiting. Noah waited. Abraham waited. Moses waited, Joseph waited, Ruth and Naomi waited. David waited, the prophets waited. All these different people pleaded and begged and bribed God to do things at their speed, rather than his, and all failed. Because God will not be rushed.

As we wait for Jesus to come again, I wondered which biblical characters we might find ourselves behaving like.

The story of the golden calf tells us a lot about waiting. Moses had gone up the mountain and had been gone ages. Aaron and the people got fed up with waiting. Things were better in Egypt, at least there we could do things to make the gods work for us – rituals and sacrifices and we could touch and see the Egyptian gods because they were made of real stuff. So instead of waiting for God, they made their own out of gold.

A lot of people have got fed up with waiting for God and decided to make their own. Or to go back to their old ways. Or make church like the golden calf – familiar things, familiar rituals, that feel like they are achieving something. But God will not be bribed with ritual.

Maybe we find ourselves waiting like the zealots or Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Two very different groups that both wanted to make the Messiah come quicker because he would overthrow the Romans. So they busied themselves with forcing God to act quicker – the zealots with violence and the Pharisees with holiness.

It can be very tempting to try and rush God. How many times have you heard people say that once everyone in the world has heard the gospel Jesus will come; or if we all say the right prayer;  or return the Jews to Israel; or believe the same things about Jesus or moral and ethical issues… then Jesus will be forced to return because we’ll have done our side of the bargain. I’ve done a, so will you do b. Bargaining with God. We always try it, but he doesn’t do it.

The prophets had a lot to say about waiting. They were constantly addressing a people who were waiting. And their message I think is the same as the message to us as we wait.

Wait patiently. And while you wait, be faithful. And by faithful I mean worship God even when he doesn’t work at your speed; submit to God even when he doesn’t do what you want when you want; and serve God even when it feels like a waste of time. 

There is hope.

Jesus will come again. That is our hope. We will meet him and welcome him here to earth where he will renew all things. In the meantime we live lives in which we do not get distracted into making our own gods or bribing or bargaining with God but in which we wait expectantly, live hopefully, and serve faithfully.   It won’t make him come any quicker, but the waiting will be much better, and allowing God to break into our lives like he did at Christmas is the best type of waiting there is.

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