Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Important and the Insignificant

One of the aspects of parish ministry is that you get to meet people from all walks of society. In the many years of my ministry I have met some famous people, and I have met very many folks who are of very humble or broken or needy backgrounds.

Sometimes the folks who are most famous know it and expect you to know it too and treat them ‘accordingly’. I have encountered that all too often, and find it distasteful in the extreme.

But others are very different. A few months back someone who is arguably one of the most innovative and creative contributors to contemporary music appeared in St Cuthbert’s. I instantly recognised him… and he seemed genuinely and disarmingly shocked that I should! Similarly, the other day I met one of the ministers of the Scottish Government. He introduced himself and when I said that I knew who he was, he was also surprised that I should have recognised such a ‘lowly minister’ (his words). I instantly liked them both!

How refreshingly different from the ‘’do you know who I am’ attitude of some of the so-called great and famous (and I have met some of them too and not been impressed.)

Perhaps the person who sticks most in my mind form recent encounters is a woman who stays in one of the less salubrious areas of Edinburgh who has teenage and young adult children all dependent on welfare benefits, one of whom is physically unwell and another who has mental illness. This genuine and humble woman came to me in great fear and trembling and with considerable shame and embarrassment to ask for any help I could give towards getting them something for Christmas dinner. She had only £7 left and no prospect for further income for days. It had taken her considerable courage to come and ask…

I think she has made more impression on me than the ‘important’ people… and especially the ‘self-important’ people I have met.

God bless you Jenny and enjoy your Christmas lunch.

Interesting that the Christmas story in Gospels includes the name of many important people; Herod, Quirinius, Augustus. But the most important person and the one whom we still remember and celebrate was the least significant (apparently). Born in an unimportant town in inauspicious circumstances. But his is the name most remembered!

Thank you Jesus that from the very beginning, even at your birth, you were turning our values upside down, the humble were lifted high and the mighty brought down from their thrones. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Mary, Music and Movement

As I have been thinking about Mary and her experience of angels and pregnancy and birth it occurs to me how terrifying it must all have been for one so young, and how extraordinary her acceptance, obedience and faith were. She is a real example of a life lived by faith, of acceptance of God’s will and way, and of catching the breeze (or in her case perhaps the hurricane!) of the Holy Spirit and being ready to move in the Spirit’s flow.

Which reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday in the course of which I recalled a book I read some time ago which likened the Christian life to music and suggested that following Jesus is less like a classical symphony (where all the notes are set out clearly and are to be followed precisely) and more like jazz improvisation (where the basic key and rhythm may be set – although sometimes not even these! – but the within that the musician ventures forth, ‘feeling’ the music, interpreting it, and so forth).

And that is slightly scary!

But it is a picture that makes more sense of my Christian experience than one of rule following and precise ‘black and white’ responses. And it is an image which resonates a little with Jesus’ talk of the Holy Spirit and those who are born of the Spirit being like the wind. You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.

Faith as improvisation, following like moving with the rhythm, Mary and all that jazz.

I find these concepts all rather inspiring and liberating…

Friday, 2 December 2011

Appreciating Advent

I love Advent.

I have never kept this a secret! I have always loved Advent. It is the sense of anticipation, the themes of hope, the focus on prayerful waiting, and so much more besides.

Sometimes I fear that the distinctive themes of Advent are in danger of being squeezed out, not only by the insistent commercial pressures of which we all know. For even in the church there can be, during Advent, a sense that Christmas has already arrived. All through December Christmas carol services intrude into the Advent preparations. And – yes – to me it can feel like an intrusion!

I know that this season allows us to connect with many in our communities who may rarely otherwise come around the church. I welcome this opportunity and do not at all resent it.

For me the question is much more one of how we – as a Christian community – hold onto the great Advent themes of hope and preparation in our worship and prayer.

So I am eager that we seek ways to meaningfully observe this wonderful season. How much more wonderful our celebrations of the Season of Incarnation will be if we first enter into the prayerful preparation represented by this Advent Season.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!