500 Years of Solitude

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 31 December 2016.

Crystal BallI bet I know what you’re thinking.

That sounds ridiculous, coming from a few words on a page, written some time before they are read. But it’s true nevertheless. The fact that you’re sceptical is a good start, but I can do better. As you picked this up, you were probably also wondering what I’d written, and whether it would be interesting, and whether you’d agree or disagree with my thoughts.

None of which would have happened five hundred years ago. And not just because you most likely would have been illiterate. Rather, it’s because in the Middle Ages, individual opinions were a luxury allowed only to the upper echelons of society. Most people simply listened to their authority figures and accepted what they said.

That all changed during the Reformation. As the new movement emphasised the idea that God spoke directly through his Word to anyone who heard it, it was obvious that he valued each individual. And if God valued the individual, the individual had value, and the right to their own thoughts.

Suddenly, we were all entitled, indeed expected, to think for ourselves. By and large, it’s a lesson we’ve learned well. Too well. We have remembered our significance as individuals, but forgotten that it is founded in us being individuals who are spoken to. And so we form our views in isolation, giving ourselves the final say in what we think, when instead we should have the first listen.

Only when we recognise that we are made to be hearers can we combine our thoughts and opinions with the humility to be open to correction, and find true wisdom. That’s why God said of his Son, “Listen to him!”

The Same Old Story

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 17 December 2016.

The professor was a nice man. When the radio announcer asked if he minded being called by his first name, he said, ‘Not at all.’ And he spoke very cheerfully, and knowledgeably. He was being interviewed about the connection between Christmas and commerce - another angle on the old ‘commercialising Christmas’ story that pops up this time of year in one form or another.

Because this is the time of year for that old story.

He explained that for thousands of years, the people of Europe had deliberately splurged on their midwinter festivals. They’d saved hard all year, and now was the time for a feast to raise their spirits. So you can see, Christmas has always been commercialised.

Rutherford HayesIn the same way, for the last 43 years, I’ve been celebrating the birthday of Rutherford B. Hayes. The 19th president of the US - he’ll be 200 in a half-dozen years (and isn’t he looking good for his age? Well, it happens to also be my birthday, but people had been celebrating birthdays long before I came along, you see...

Alright, it’s a bit silly to argue that Christmas is the same as the Midwinter festival, just because it happened at the same time. The truth is, as Christians began to celebrate Christmas, they weren’t praying for nature to reawaken, but thanking God for the new life he’d already given them. They weren’t afraid of the longest night, but rejoiced in the dawn of Christ’s kingdom. They had a new story to tell in place of the old myths.

It was a new story then, but now it’s old. And this is the time of year for that old story!

Let the Angel Voices Ring

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 11 December 2016.

Joy to the WorldYou had to see it to really feel it. On the back of many rehearsals, a group of thirteen sat on the stairs at the climax of Carols at the Heads, and while an a capella group sang ‘Joy to the World’, they held up simple signs matching each word as it was sung. It was, literally, poetry in motion as they conveyed both the words and the rhythm of the music.

Without a word of their own, without singing a note, they drew our attention to the words of the carol. We were reminded that Jesus’ birth cannot help but bring joy to our weary world. Silently, they repeated the sounding joy.

That’s what we all do, really, isn’t it? We have all been commissioned by God to bear his message to the world; we are his ‘angels’ in the truest sense of the word. And the words we speak are not our own. It is his gospel, and his Spirit who empowers us to tell the good news.

We seek to do this at every opportunity, but December particularly gives us many chances. The approach of Christmas means that Jesus is on the horizon, turning up in greeting cards, shopping centres and TV specials. Let’s do our best to seize those openings in conversations, and let’s offer the invitations to those around us. While Carols might be done for another year, we have the Spot this week, and church services beyond that.

Let the angel voices ring!

Fun

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 03 December 2016.

Ball PitCan I be totally honest with you? I expect the week ahead to be great fun. Certainly it will be tiring for many of us, but we’ll have a blast anyway.

I’m not basing this simply on experience. Sure, NTE mission is always a highlight for us, and it’s fantastic the way that the team partners with us to enable all sorts of ministry. But there’s a better reason.

I’m not confident just because I think the plans we’ve made are exceptionally engaging this year. It will be wonderful to see them take flight, and to see the responses of the kids at the scripture assembly and the crowd gathered for carols. But there’s a better reason.

I’m not even optimistic because we’re better prepared this year than ever before. It will be nice to have less last-minute deadlines and seat-of-the-pants miracles. Less stress is good! But there’s a better reason.

It will be fun because we’re talking about Jesus. For this week, we’ll stop being embarrassed to disrupt the comfortable hedonism of those around us. We’ll speak excitedly about things that are, well, exciting. We can be enthusiastic about something that actually warrants it.

And of course, the good news is joyous. Wonder, praise, delight - they all bubble up and can’t be suppressed. Nobody can tell a riotous joke and then keep a poker face - so there’s no chance of sharing a greater story without having fun in the process.

If only we could do the same thing every week of the year ...

Re-Solved

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 25 November 2016.

ResolutionsWe must be slow learners. Or possibly insane. After all, one popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result on the last occasion.

We have this expression about ‘turning over a new leaf’ to describe a renewed effort in some particular area. Yet if you look inside any blank exercise book, you’ll find the pages identical. Why should a new leaf be any better than the ones that came before?

Nevertheless, we like to give it a shot, and good on us. I’d far rather an optimistic ‘have a go’ attitude over despair and lethargy. And if you’re like me, there are any number of bad habits that it would be great to dispose of in the pursuit of a better character and more joyful life.

Perhaps the better question is why we take the approach of making resolutions. If I’ve always had an excessive fondness for, say, ice cream sundaes, how does resolving to swear off them actually change anything? I’ve still got the same fondness, the same opportunities. And it was me that gave into temptation 308 times previously...so why should I believe myself this time?

Such changes tend to work best when we’re not relying just upon ourselves. We could have our family members conspire to eat all ice cream as soon as it enters the house, to reduce opportunity, for example. Or we could agree to padlock the freezer.

That’s a trivial example, of course, and even there we struggle. When it comes to deeper sins, there’s only one place to turn for help: the God who can bring light out of darkness, and who died to cleanse us.

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