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What is Christmas for? What is the Church for? - Songs of innocence and of experience [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Douglas Spencer

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What is Christmas for? What is the Church for? [Dec. 25th, 2006|02:12 am]
Douglas Spencer

Firstly, a very merry Christmas to you, if receiving that wish warmly lies within your tradition. I trust that the season, whatever significance it holds for you, plays out as you would wish it to.

For me, inevitably, God's relationship with His people lies at the heart of my thinking tonight. But they're coloured by thoughts which have arisen as a result of some of the questions I've been asked over the last few months.

Two questions in particular spring to mind. In the former, back in mid-September Dop asked me "Did you never think of going into the ministry?", a question that reaches me from various quarters from time to time and which has a partial answer as a reply to his comment here. In the latter, Liam asked me whether it was wise to celebrate Christmas at a date chosen to coincide with the pre-existing Pagan midwinter festival, or whether it would make more sense to chose a more historically accurate time of year. I don't have a link to the comment, since he asked me at the Tun rather than on LJ, but my answer was in favour of the former.

Here's a slightly fuller, yet more roundabout, answer to both questions... in reverse order.

For Christians, for those of us following the usual calendar, Christmas is the time when we celebrate the moment when God became man and lived among us. The point at which God set in motion the next stage in the process whereby He and his creation are to become reconciled to each other. This is astonishingly exciting; it's hard to express, here in plain text, just how it makes me feel. Some of you may have had children, some of you may have recovered after serious injury or illness, some of you may have met famous people or childhood heroes. There are elements of each of these things going on, but they don't really capture the feelings which arise in me when I prepare for Christmas. And many Christians feel the same. Imagine you're celebrating a birth, or a re-birth, or a dream come true. This celebration is something that you really want to share; the correct time to celebrate Christmas is at the same time as everyone else.

The job of a Christian, as described in the final words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, is to go out into the world and demonstrate the love of God to everyone. [Mark 16:15] This is work that should be undertaken by every Christian, but it's work that is very much undermined when someone is ordained and appointed to a church. The business of spreading the good news, an activity called "mission", is considerably hampered by the business of working within a church, an activity popularly called "ministry". Very often, ministers of religion are called upon to preach in churches, to audences who already know the story. Very often, ministers spend all their time in pastoral care of their existing congregation, or -- worse -- in administration. "... And he said unto them, go ye into the church, shut the door, and fill in some forms to send to the accounts department in London..." Somehow, I doubt this is quite what Jesus was getting at when he gave that commission to his disciples.
The commission is to bring the Good News to people on the outside of the churches. So, then, what should the Church be for? What should ministers and preachers be doing? What is the purpose of worship, of preaching, of celebration, amongst existing believers?
If the job of believers is to spread the good news, then the job of the Church and its ministers is to equip the believers to perform that task. Preaching and teaching equip us intellectually to demonstrate the love of God; worship and celebration equip us emotionally to demonstrate the love of God. All of the rest of our lives -- eating, sleeping, working, living and loving -- equip us physically to demonstrate the love of God, and provide us with a string of perfect opportunities to do so.
I've spent much of my forty-plus years in study and debate, learning the background to my faith. I've returned from a Christmas Eve midnight service recharged by worship and fellowship with other believers. And now, crucially, I've stepped out of the Church and into the world, to do the job that I've been charged to do.

So I'm instructed to tell the good news. Here it is: God loves you, completely and unreservedly. He longs for you to respond to that love, by loving God and by loving each other. Human nature is such that love is a good technique for coping with the world; love brings light and life to everyone it touches. Love is the best possible demonstration of the nature of God, and Christmas Day is a great day to express what love you can for those of your friends and family that come your way.

A very merry Christmas to you all.

[User Picture]From: alexmc
2006-12-25 07:19 am (UTC)
First of all, Merry Christmas.

The rest of this response was deleted due to it being Christmas Day and I'm trying terribly not to irritate anyone.

I do love my friends and family, and it hurts when I cannot be the perfect safety net for them. I am so glad that I have friends and family who can act as a safety net for me. Thankyou all.

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[User Picture]From: ang_grrr
2006-12-25 07:50 am (UTC)
And a very merry Christmas to you too.
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[User Picture]From: pinkdormouse
2006-12-25 01:02 pm (UTC)
Merry Christmas!
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From: pmcmurray
2006-12-25 05:12 pm (UTC)
interesting, thanks for that
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From: jamesb
2006-12-25 09:43 pm (UTC)
Your final paragraph can be read many ways, I am sure many a religion could agree with it, and I would see it as being true, without God of course. But what makes you a true christian is that you don't force your mesaage upon people, your message is there, if one wishes to listen, or if one wants to hear it, but unlike many followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, you seem to have no rules, or caveats or hurdles to your message.

People often suggest ministry to you - I am not surprised, your approach would be radical compared to many, well many men of the cloth I have encountered. Maybe its changed.

Its a shame so many religous people who believe in Christ couldn't be a bit more christian.

anyhow, who am I to speak on such ecumenical matters....

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[User Picture]From: seph_hazard
2006-12-25 10:42 pm (UTC)
But what makes you a true christian is that you don't force your mesaage upon people, your message is there, if one wishes to listen, or if one wants to hear it, but unlike many followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, you seem to have no rules, or caveats or hurdles to your message.

Yes-I agree entirely. In fact, darling, you have exactly the sort of faith I try to aim for, and I admire you greatly for that :-)
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[User Picture]From: lproven
2006-12-27 05:32 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. Well said. Couldn't have put it better myself.
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[User Picture]From: ingaborg
2006-12-27 01:45 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, I have to ask the obvious question.

Why do bad things happen to good people?
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[User Picture]From: dougs
2006-12-27 04:41 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry, I have to give the obvious answer.

I don't know.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-12-27 10:59 pm (UTC)
Then I don't see the point of anything you've said above. The world makes equally little sense with or without a deity. Why complicate matters?
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[User Picture]From: lproven
2006-12-27 05:34 pm (UTC)
Because there is no god or gods and never was. The entire universe happened by accident and all that occurs within it is essentially driven by randomness.

Yes, I know it's hard to believe. Yes, I know it's not a comforting or a comfortable thought. These are the prices of being a rational independent entity: confronting the universe and staring it down.

Life is good. Life is precious and to be cherished. That does not mean life has a reason. That's just human wooly thinking.
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