Without a doubt, Christmas is a special time of the year. Whether it is the Christmas holidays, the Summer fun, the family catch-ups or the carolling and Church-going, it is definitely a special time.
All of the events of Christmas can leave us wanting for the joy that elusively flirts with us each day. So how do we grab hold of it and truly know the joy we long for? Is it, as some believe, by experiencing Christmas through the eyes of the children? Or is there a deeper, more real way to live in the happiness we long for?
We can feel quite distanced in time and space from the events of Jesus but it is through spending time with him that we can reach out and drink deeply from the wellspring of joy. Rather than retreat from our grown-up way of engaging with the world, we can come honestly to Jesus in all our mess and find the peace and joy for which our hearts long.
Christmas carols, however crassly they may be played, were written for adults engaging with God, not for entertaining infants.
In them we recognise Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, who came that we may have life in all its fullness: Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King.
This year, may we engage deeply with the God of goodness and joy.
Christmas blessings, Brad
Recently I’ve had some ‘flashbacks’ with troubling thoughts about various things plaguing my mind. The memories they raise bring anxiety and stress. Through these times it can be difficult to remain positive and also to be present with other people in their situations. My memory has been something of a curse as I’ve chewed over these troubling thoughts and relived the stress and negative emotions.
The psalmist in Psalm 77 seems to have had a similar experience. He cried out to God for help but didn’t seem to experience the help he wanted. His thoughts in the middle of the night were: Will the Lord reject for ever? Will he never show his favour again? … Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
My experience is all too real for the psalmist but where he leads next is transforming. He said,
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:11-12)
The psalmist looked to the past, to his previous experience of God’s goodness and faithfulness and importantly to the great and powerful acts of God throughout the years. The psalmist goes on to recount the victory of God when He led His people through the sea, delivering them from slavery in Egypt. He is reminding himself of God’s goodness in the past. He is taking that ability of his mind that chews over bad thoughts and difficult times and turning it into a blessing. He is chewing over, meditating on a great victory of God and allowing that wonderful truth to transform his thinking.
This does not mean that it was easy for the psalmist. He still had to live in his time and place with the reality of his troubles - the reasons he was calling out to God for help in the first place - but his attitude to his situation was transformed by his new meditation on God.
At the end of the psalm my imagination was captured by this line:
“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”
God led His people through the sea to freedom, but he wasn’t seen himself. The activity of God was evident but he didn’t reveal himself explicitly apart from his activity. Today, God is active all around us, and yet it is only those who believe who see the evidence. When we chew over God’s great activities of the past, (specifically Jesus’ life, teaching, miracles, death, resurrection and ascension), God will transform our vision and thus transform our experience of the world around us. Keep remembering God’s miracles of long ago. Keep reminding yourself of all of God’s works in the past and in your life. Meditate on them and chew them over.
The realisation of God’s permanent presence with us gives us peace even when we could be distressed by the various anxieties and stresses that plague us. The best blessing of God is God himself: Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
In "The Matrix" Morpheus tells Neo that he has been living in a dream world. There is an implied judgement that living in the real world is important so understanding the truth is important. Neo has believed the lie that was fed directly into his brain and it has taken a huge intervention for Neo to begin to wake up to reality.
We all live to different degrees in a dream world and in the real world. We tend to be blind to some of our own attributes (both good and bad) and we need others to 'hold up a mirror' so that we can have a reality check.
In Psalm 96.4-5 we read:
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
The Bible doesn't so much talk badly about other 'gods' as simply deny their existence. As much as people try to trust in other things, other 'gods', in reality there is only One who is worth trusting because there is only one God.
There are areas of my life in which I deny the existence of God. When I hold on to worries and stresses about money I deny the existence of the God who provides for me and tells me not to worry about such things. When I fail to take a day off because I feel I have too much work to do, I deny the existence of the God who is actively sustaining all things and who has been working out history according to His will since before the beginning.
I have a reality mission in my life, I want to live in the real world, to trust my heavenly Father in all things because he is trustworthy.
We all have the same reality mission in our lives, and we are to be involved in God's reality mission to other people.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous deeds among all peoples.
Declaring God's glory among the nations is not a mission to convince people of my point of view, or one interpretation of things. It is a reality mission. God is glorious, He has done marvellous things, He continues to sustain all things with His great power. This is reality. When we become aware of reality we must promote it, help people to awaken from the dream world where we think we are in control or we are indispensable and see the truth that God is in charge and He is good.