Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What sort of Christmas are you dreaming of? (Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love Not Snow and Jingle Bells)

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Well in our southern hemisphere homeland I don’t think many of us would be dreaming of a white Christmas. We’re a summer people. Perhaps the only white that inhabits our dreams is the puffy white clouds in an endless blue sky. The white froth on a perfectly formed wave breaking on the Bikini infested beach, cricket whites on a well manicured oval and the white contrast of potato salad next to an array of greener salads and the brown, and if we’re honest the charcoal black, of BBQ’ed meat at our family gatherings.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Well for so many Christmas signals the start of that holiday break they’ve been dreaming about all year. A chance to unwind let the tension knots of stress unclench in our overworked shoulders and necks. A time to indulge in that most New Zealand of dreams, The family batch by the beach, exchanging the crowded streets of suburbia for the crowded rows of caravans and tents at that secluded holiday destination before it gets sold off to the super rich. If I can be cheeky enough to say it we become the in car nation at Christmas heading off for our well earned rests.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Of course so many people want to sell you a dream for Christmas. Glamorous glitzy catalogues and mail outs galore full of things that will show how much you care or just make your day, make your year or even change your life. Just to help you get what you want we are offered Specials and incentives, loyalty cards and kind offers to extend the limit on credit cards.

In a recent BBC poll about the 10 worst things about Christmas one response was the timing, it was good that Christmas came but once a year but why just before the January sales.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

The food banks prepare for the seasonal rush, relationship councillors warn of the added stress and give tips on how not to have a break up this Christmas. The women’s refuge doesn’t see it as a time of peace and good will as families under pressure, fuelled perhaps by Christmas cheer and unobtainable consumer dreams, explode into violence. For some the festive season heightens their sense of isolation, “it’s the loneliest time of the year”.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Our tables seem to groan from the weight at Christmas time while in Africa in Asia in our war torn and poverty stricken two thirds world there is simply a groan as people have to wait to see if there is any. Christmas appeals invite us to look at other places round the world where the dream for this Christmas is simply to survive. It calls us to share our wealth with the poor and hungry.

What kind of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Don’t get me wrong I love Christmas, I love the festivities and family time, I even love the gifts and being able to express love to people by giving. But I wonder if we haven’t allowed our Christmas dreams to be captured by our western consumer lifestyle and we miss the real meaning of Christmas.

Yes in Church we are year after year amazed by the mystery that in the child in the manger God became man. That like at those camping ground round our nation God pitched his tent in our neighbourhood: an act that will lead to the cross and the resurrection and humanity being reconciled to God. But I wonder if even we haven’t allowed God’ dream of God’s salvation and how it can impact in our world to fade behind the tinsel and the lights, to become simply a hallmark moment on a soon forgotten card from a distant relative.

What sort of Christmas are you dreaming of?

I fear that we have allowed the voice of the powers and powerful in our world to shape our Christmas dreams. We’ve allowed that voice to speak as if it were our god. But that’s not the way that God works and in Luke’s gospel we hear a dream for what the birth of this child Jesus will mean spoken not by the powerful but by a marginalised women in first century roman occupied Judah: Mary’s song of praise, ‘the Magnificat’. In that voice we glimpse what sort of Christmas God is dreaming of: A hope filled dream, a peace filled dream, a joy filled dream and a love filled dream but mostly a Christ filled dream for the world.

Elizabeth and Mary would have both been marginalised people in their society. They were Jews in their occupied homeland. They were women in a society where men ruled. Even in that society they would have been marginalised. Elizabeth was an older woman and she hadn’t been able to bear children, the sign of God’s blessing, people may have wondered what was wrong with her or even speculated that somehow she had done something wrong. But now she is with child, and she wonders about that child. Typical of a man her husband Zechariah was struck dumb when she conceived. She sees God in this.

Her relative Mary is also with child, and there is also a cloud hanging over her, she’s betrothed to Joseph but she’s pregnant, there are rumours and allegations flying round. But Mary knows that this child is different, God told her she has conceived a child by the Holy Spirit. It was hard for Mary to comprehend and the reassurance she got in an angel visit was that her relative Elizabeth is also with child. If Elizabeth being old could have a child them there is nothing that is impossible with God. When the two women meet, it tells us that the child in Elizabeth womb leapt for joy. That Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and realises who the child in her young nieces womb is

“ Blessed are you amongst women, and blessed is the child you will bear’ but why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should visit me.” The identity of this child is first spoken on the lips of a human being. By this marginalised but faith filled women.

Then Mary’s response is a song. Maybe in our country and culture where at the maraes welcomes are started by Kuia calling chanting welcome and finished by visitors singing waiata it shouldn’t seem a strange event.

But the words of greeting exchanged between these two women at the door of a house, are words that capture the heart of the Gospel and speak to the world and echo down two thousand years to us.

The child that Elizabeth acknowledges as her Lord, God’s son will bring about a change and a shift in the power and structures of the world. Mary doesn’t use the words of the Kingdom of God but we see the expectations of the Old Testament of God’s ideal society where God reigns and poverty and injustice are no more. Those who are high will be bought low and those who are low and poor and oppressed will be lifted up; just as God has blessed his humble servant Mary. The hungry will be feed with good things and the rich will go away empty handed.’

The coming of this child will bring about a new way to be human. A new way where we are invited into a relationship with God through the life and sacrifice of this Child Jesus and that will lead to a new way of living a new way of being where the poor will be treated fairly, where oppression and injustice will be no more. Word’s echoed in Luke’ sequel to the gospel narrative where the first followers of this Jesus were able to say that no one in their community had a need. They sold what they had and gave to meet those needs.

That’s just a pipe dream I hear you say, look around you mate. Didn’t Jesus even say later on that we’d always have the poor with us. Who are we that we can do anything about it and well to tell you the truth Christendom, you know when you followers of Jesus were the powerful ones not the marginalised it wasn’t much better.

And I’d have to say your right about all those things.

But what sort of Christmas are you dreaming of?

Will your relationship with Jesus come that at Christmas bring change to you and to our world.

Are you dreaming of a hope filled Christmas? It doesn’t have to be this way? Where because of the Love and forgiveness we have received from the God who gave his son as a gift for us we can work with God to care for his people, and his world.

Are you dreaming of a peace filled Christmas. Where because we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ we can take up the ministry of reconciliation that Paul talks of in and work to see the peoples of this word have peace with god and with one another. It may mean staring by mending a fence with someone at church, bringing down a fence between you and the neighbour who is different than you. Forgiving and being willing to forgive.

Are you dreaming of a Joy filled Christmas? Not just a happy Christmas or Christmas cheer, but the joy of seeing the hungry feed the lost and alone become part of God’s community, The joy of people set free from sin and oppression.

Are you dreaming of a love filled Christmas? What a wonderful gift of Love that God should give us his only son that who ever believes in his should not perish but have everlasting life. And beloved will people see that love we have received, as we love one another as we love even the least in our world.

Are you dreaming of a Christ filled Christmas?

Enjoy the festivities the family, you need a break take it enjoy it, but my hope this Christmas is that we might again hear not dreams of a white Christmas but of Christ coming into our lives and though that into our world this Christmas, this new year.

Whose dream of Christmas are you dreaming?

What sort of Christmas are you dreaming of?

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