Christmas slide-show

A few photos have come in of this year’s Christmas services at Didsbury Baptist Church. I have put some of them together in the slide-show below. Many thanks to Anna and Steve for the photos.

Sacred Space

Baptists are not always very keen on the idea of sacred space. Some point to the idea that the whole world is God’s creation, others to the idea that we can encounter God anywhere. Either way, every space might be thought of as sacred space. Other Baptists take issue with symbols and signs thinking that even crosses and candles might themselves become idols detracting from the true worship of God. Yet even if we agree with these ways of thinking, we surely can still hold out for some imaginative expression in the design of space usually set aside for worship. The worship-spaces in some of today’s buildings lack any symbolic focus. They look more like school halls, auditoriums, concert halls or theatres than like sanctuaries. We, at Didsbury Baptist Church, are thinking about these issues because our building needs work and we are planning to make some significant changes to it both inside and out. While we ask how we should reorder our sanctuary for the future, we are left still to make the most of what we have now. One of the ways we are able to do this is through the use of symbols and lighting. Steve, our lighting technician, works hard to produce an environment that speaks of the welcoming love of God for all who enter our doors. The photo above shows how the sanctuary looked just before we lit the candles in advance of our candlelight carol service on Christmas Eve. I think the place looked spectacular. Great job Steve, many thanks!

The Word became flesh

Happy Christmas to all our readers!

The Bible readings for Christmas day include: Isaiah 52.7–10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1.1–4 [5–12]; John 1.1–14.   I love the John reading for Christmas morning. Although our all-age service at Didsbury Baptist Church will be light and fun, I will still take a few minutes to read John 1.1–14. For me, it simply would not be Christmas without it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

I think it was William Temple who said, ‘Christianity is the most materialistic of all religions’. He must have had the Incarnation in mind. Through it we learn that God cares about the whole person.

Through the incarnation we  learn what God is like. If you want to know what God is like, they say, take a look at Jesus.

Christmas Eve

The readings for Christmas Eve are: Psalm 45; Malachi 3.13 – 4.6; Luke 1.67–79.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1.78–9)

Out of the depths

The Bible readings for Wed 23 December are: Psalm 130; Malachi 2.17 – 3.12; Luke 1.57–66.

Today’s readings are united in the theme of waiting for God or trusting in God. It is the Lord who will redeem Israel (Ps 130), the Lord who will suddenly visit his temple (Malachi), and the Lord who restores the speech of Zechariah (Luke 1).

It is not immediately clear what is envisioned by ‘The Lord will redeem Israel from all its iniquities’ (Ps 130.8). Clearly, forgiveness is in view. Yet the Hebrew word for ‘iniquity’ also means ‘guilt’, ‘condemnation’ or ‘punishment’. Redemption then may imply a kind of healing of both sinner and sinned-against. It may imply that a time of distress, brought about as a consequence of wrongdoing, is coming to an end and a new chapter opening, much as for Zechariah in the Gospel reading.

This Advent and Christmas, we might ask whether we have been the cause of our own, or someone else’s, distress. Perhaps, this Christmas we can begin to put that right and help to make this Christmas memorable not for family squabbles but for forgiveness and reconciliation. Perhaps too, we might pray and work for those in our world who long achingly for justice and peace.

Christmas Festival Service 2009

It was snowing in Manchester on Sunday and I wondered how it would affect our Festival Service. Well, there were a number who could not make it but quite a number of guests joined us and the attendance was excellent under the circumstances. I only hope everyone got home safely (I have heard reports of nightmare journeys home).  The children’s nativity was, of course, the highlight of the service though the singing group was also excellent. Pictures of the nativity below (courtesy of Anna Wright– thanks Anna!):

The song of Mary

The Bible readings for today are: Psalm 124; Malachi 2.1–16; Luke 1.46–56.

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
(Luke 1.46–55, the Magnificat)

What more can you say?

Winter solstice is here!

I was scraping ice off the car in darkness this morning just a few hours ago and I’m writing this at about 4 p.m.  and it is already dark again. It was a short day but a glorious one: cold and with snow on the ground and clear blue sky above. And it is the shortest day of the year! Truth is, we, in Britain, cannot really complain about the cold (it is never really cold enough) but winter days here are often damp, dark and miserable. This has been a beautiful one not only because of the sunshine but also because from tomorrow on it will be light for a little longer each day.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

Advent Antiphon (see Malachi 4.2 and Luke 1.79).

Divine initiative and human response

Today’s Bible readings are: Psalm 121; Malachi 1.1, 6–end; Luke 1.39–45.

The Visitation (Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth) from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (the very rich hours of the duke of Berry), a renowned book of hours.

The theme of divine – human interaction is never far from the birth accounts of Luke’s Gospel. The accounts speak of the working of God in the world and of the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. Yet this ‘plan’ seems more open-ended than we might have imagined and always involves human beings who may, it seems, respond positively or negatively toward God. They may further God’s purpose or, in some sense, (wittingly or unwittingly) stand against it. Yet God has the last word and even the resistance of humanity is somehow ultimately overcome.

Zechariah does not believe the word of the angel and needs a sign; Mary, on the other hand (though still questioning) believes the angel and responds: ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ Elizabeth lauds Mary for her faith. Yet God does not give up on Zechariah.

Through their faith and in spite of their lack of faith, God is at work among human beings wooing them, inspiring them and equipping them to will and to do what is right.

I think both Psalm 121 and Malachi 1 have there own contribution to make in this area but I will leave you to reflect on that and perhaps to leave a comment.

O little town of Bethlehem

Today’s Bible readings are: Micah 5.2–5a; Hebrews 10.5–10; Luke 1.39–45 [46–55].

For prophets and Gospel writers alike the town of Bethlehem had all kinds of associations that made it the ideal location for the birth of the deliverer / messiah. It was King David’s home-town and the place of his anointing as king (1 Sam 16). For Micah as for Luke it was near enough to Jerusalem to provide a point of comparison. The traditional capital had become corrupt so new hope would come, not from completely foreign quarters, but not directly from Jerusalem either. Thus John the Baptist springs from a priestly family, centred (presumably) on Jerusalem, but Jesus, from the nearby, yet alternative, Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was also the place where Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. I have just been reading that story in Genesis 35.16–21 and was struck by similarities between it and Luke’s birth narrative. (The themes of journeying, childbirth and naming are prominent in both). Bethlehem became, for Rachel (and for Jacob) a place of threat, pain, and death but also a place of hope and celebration because of the birth of a child. So in Luke’s story, into the pain and distress of an oppressed people, came hope and peace in Jesus Christ.

Bethlehem today is again a place of tension, pain and distress. Can hope and peace  break through there anew in our day?

Christian Aid is featuring Bethlehem in its Christmas appeal.

Loving God, we pray for the people of Bethlehem and for a renewal of hope and peace there. Amen.

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