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What if men organised Christmas?

2 Samuel 7.1-11,16, Romans 16.25-27, Luke 1.26-38
A recent survey of 2,000 men found a third of them were convinced that, if they were put in charge of organising Christmas, it would be less rushed, less stressful and less expensive. One female commentator remarked acidly that she didn’t believe Christmas would be less rushed if men were put in charge, simply because the planning wouldn’t begin until Christmas Eve. However, the ways that the men said they would cut down at Christmas were by sending fewer cards, (half of them wouldn’t send any cards at all in fact), by giving fewer presents and by having much simpler food. They wouldn’t be cooking turkey, for a start! A fifth said they would cook steak and chips for the family; another fifth said they would order in the food from a takeaway. And two-fifths said they would spend far less time with their in-laws.
School children were also surveyed. They too were worried about the cost of Christmas, and whether their parents w…

Remembering the School Nativity Play

Luke 2.1-7
Have you been in any Christmas plays at school? If so, what part did you get to play?

I was once a shepherd, a part I remember because the headmistress lent me a valuable family heirloom - a pottery hot water bottle - which she thought would be an impressive prop that would make me look more authentic. She told me it was a special privilege to borrow such a precious thing, but she was letting me have it because I was such a good boy and could be trusted with it. Unfortunately, I was carrying it by a string fastened round the neck of the bottle. The string snapped during the dress rehearsal and - to my horror - the bottle smashed to pieces on the wooden floor. The headmistress lost her temper and shouted at me that I had been careless, so I thought it was in big trouble, but when she calmed down she said she was sorry and that it wasn’t me fault. Phew!

Another year it felt much safer to be a wiseman and read my own poem about the gift I had brought for the Baby Jes…

Hope in a Time of Looming Crisis

Isaiah 40.1-11
Mark 1.1-8
We were watching the news on Channel 4 the other night when Helen said, ‘The news is so terrible these days that you really don’t have time to take in the enormity of it before they’ve moved on to the next item.’

For example, there was a report that high inflation, government cuts and the longest period of wage stagnation on record will mean that the spending power of the average British family is going to plummet over the next five years. And families with children will be particularly hard hit. In 2016 they will be worse off than they might have been if their children had been exactly the same age 14 years earlier in 2002.

Mind you, it’s not just younger people who are feeling the pinch. As Jeremy Clarkson might have said, public sector workers should perhaps spare a thought for those of us who don’t already enjoy their fairly generous pension arrangements. An announcement in George Osbourne’s autumn statement on Tuesday changed my retirement dat…

A Christmas Story

Mark 1.1-3
Christmas was approaching and the whole family was looking forward to the holiday - the food, the presents, the decorations, playing games round a blazing log fire. But everyone agreed that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if they couldn’t attend the Christmas Eve service in the little church down in the valley.

‘I hope it doesn’t snow,’ said Mum. ‘If it snows we won’t be able to go.’

‘Oh, why not?’ asked the Twins. ‘Couldn’t we ski?’ asked Johnny. ‘Couldn’t we go by sledge?’ asked Jenny.

‘Well,’ said Dad, ‘We could only ski if we had any skis. And we could go by sledge down the hill, but then we would have to pull it back up the hill through the snow at one o’clock in the morning.’

So everyone agreed that if it snowed heavily they would have to stay at home, even on Christmas Eve, in their farmhouse high on the hillside.

‘That means we would miss the service where we celebrate the coming of Jesus,’ said Mum. ‘Somehow it won’t feel like Christmas if we can’t be there.’

Th…

Doing Good For The Right Reasons

Matthew 25.31-46
Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince

On one level the parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats is a straight forward story about the rewards of doing the right thing. Like the Happy Prince, the sheep and the goats discover that true happiness lies in serving others not in enjoying ourselves.

However, both the parable and Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince add a further twist to what would otherwise be a simple morality tale. The more deserving the recipients of our help, the more easily they might otherwise be overlooked, the greater will be our reward in reaching out to them.

If we only help those who can return the favour, that is not good enough. We must make sure of helping the people at the back of the queue, the strangers and the marginalised. If anything, these are the people to whom we should give priority.

And yet there are problems with this interpretation. First of all, shouldn’t doing good be its own reward. Why do we need to inherit a kingdom? Isn’…

Recognising where we are

Matthew 25.1-13
This Gospel reading is about our spiritual journey. It’s a story that gives a young woman’s perspective on the ups and downs involved. It’s like being a bridesmaid. Perhaps other religious communities, like the Muslim community, have a closer experience to the one Jesus recounts than a typical Christian or secular bridesmaid might have. Muslim bridesmaids might have to get dressed up to the nines and then hang around all day with the bride on about five separate occasions because in the build up to the wedding there could be a party every night of the week. No wonder then that it might be necessary to take a whole week off work just to get ready, psyche themselves up and then perform their appointed role.

A Christian or secular bridesmaid has to support the bride on the hen night, perhaps at some sort of eve of wedding party nowadays, and - of course - on the big day itself. There’s still plenty of room for things to go wrong - losing the bride on the hen night would be …

Dr Fox, Tony Blair and The Counsel of the Wicked

Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2.1-8

‘Happy is the one who does not take the counsel of the wicked for a guide.’ Why might Doctor Fox come to mind when we read those words? He didn’t take the counsel of the wicked, but neither did he take the counsel of his civil servants for a guide. Despite repeated warnings he failed to stick to the path laid out in the ministerial code and - in the end - he didn’t prosper. When judgement came he found that he could not stand firm in the assembly of the righteous.

Of course, he’s not alone. Tony Blair didn’t take the counsel of the wicked either, but he did take the counsel of spin doctors for a guide when he wanted to justify the war against Iraq. He followed the path laid out in the so-called ‘dodgy dossier’ and - like Dr Fox - he has been driven hither and thither like chaff, by the winds of public opinion. When judgement came, in the shape of the Chilcot Inquiry, he had plenty to say in his own defence - because Tony Blair is never wrong, of course - but…