Monthly Archives: December 2010

Story of Rudolph

From the internet –

A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.

His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?” Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob.

Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn’t end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print,_ Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer_ and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.

In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter. But the story doesn’t end there either.

Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.  “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.”

Jumping Off A Cliff

 

The ultimate “I can’t believe I haven’t died moment” still awaits us, and belongs says John – “but to those who did believe he gave the right to become children” – to those who have faith.  To have faith is to jump.

My favourite illustration still remains Indy in the Last Crusade.

And some fine poetry from Michael Symmons Roberts’ “Anatomy of a perfect dive” (From “Corpus”, page 67).

…Feet on the brink.  Avoid brushing earth
from your soles.  Some trace of it

can cross the border with you;
flecks of other people on your skin and hair,

…reach up with your arms, as if this was
less dive, more surrender,

less surrender, more ascension. Stretch
until your heels lift from the sandstone

…You’ve left the world. There. The land
was thin.  The land,
let’s be honest, was dying.

…Technically, this is the crux.
You are living a half-life between

two elements.  You may wish at this stage
to be photographed or painted.

Now you know what your solidity is for:
so gravity has something to work with.

Old Year Sunday

The first was to imagine an edition of the X-Factor, and against the backdrop of this year’s show where viewers were urged to vote for Mary and save her from going back to Tesco.

So imagine the X-Factor, we have just had the theme, the sonerous voice-over, the reminder that the contestants will giving the performance of their lives, the portentous background music of Carmina Burana, Dermot appears, talks up the show, and then announces the arrival of the X-Factor judges.

The dry ice-pumps, the doors draw back, the fireworks descend from the ceiling, and the judges appear.

“Louis Walsh” says sonerous voice-over man – Louis grins inanely

“Danni Minogue” – Danni smiles, savouring the moment, she might not be here next year,

“Cheryl Cole” – Cheryl stands, salutes her an public

and “Simon Cowell” – the camera cuts to empty space on the stage, dry ice, sparklers but no Simon.

Dermot rushes onto stage, an envelope is thrust into his hand, Dermot opens the envelope, white with shock, reads out it’s contents.  Simon has left the show to spend the next thirty three years working on a checkout at Tesco.

The other illustration related to the news that 14,000 families had been displaced fleeing violence in the Ivory Coast.

I had shown my concern about the situation by making the effort to drag my mouse across other more frivolous stories on the BBC webstie to click on the headline.  Furthermore, in a remarkable demonstration of International solidarity, I had pressed paged down repeatedly to reach the end of the article.

If I wanted to demonstrate further commitment, I might endeavour to send some money.

I may even take out a direct debit, to ensure my giving was regular.

If I was even more commited I might undertake to pray on a regular basis for the people of the Ivory Coast.

If the depth of my love stretched to its limit, I might choose to leave my job, my family, my home; I might invest my remaining savings in a flight to Nigeria and then on to the Ivory Coast, and resolved to spend the remainder of life with the people of Sierra Leone.

As I left, people might comment, “See how much he cares for these people.”

What must the angels have said the day that the Word left the side of the Father to enter the womb of Mary.  “See how much he loves those people… see how much he loves.”

And nine months later they sang

“Glory God in the Highest and Peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Witness, An Alternate City

This is John Ortberg on the 18th October.

He has a fabulous opening story, from Eugene Peterson about the difficulties of evangelism:

“I had been prepared for the wider world of neighborhood and school
by memorizing, ‘Bless those who persecute you’, and ‘turn the other cheek.’ I don’t know how Garrison
Johns knew that about me-some sixth sense bullies have, I suppose. Most afternoons after school, he
would catch me and beat me up. He also found out I was a Christian and taunted me with Jesus-sissy.
I arrived home most days bruised and humiliated. My mother told me this had always been the way of
Christians in the world and that I had better get used to it. She also said I was supposed to pray for him.
One day I was with seven or eight friends when Garrison caught up with us in the afternoon and started
jabbing me. That’s when it happened. Something snapped. For a moment, the Bible verses disappeared
from my consciousness, and I grabbed Garrison. To my surprise and his, I was stronger than he was. I
wrestled him to the ground, sat on his chest, pinned his arms to the ground with my knees, and he was
helpless at my mercy. It was too good to be true.
I hit him in the face with my fists. It felt good, and I hit him again. Blood spurted from his nose, a lovely
crimson in the snow.” This is Eugene Peterson, The Message Bible guy writing this. “I said to Garrison,
‘Say uncle.’ He wouldn’t say it. I hit him again. More blood. Then my Christian training reasserted itself. I
said, ‘Say I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.’ He wouldn’t say it. I hit him again. More
blood. I tried again. Say, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,’ and he said it. Garrison Johns
was my first Christian convert.”
1

Eddie Izzard – Believe

I hate to force religious imagery onto a man who doesn’t believe in it (but perhaps we might be allowed, given the amount of Biblical midrash in Izzard’s material, unfortunately too much swearing in it so you can never use it in Church, I have tried), but there is something in the life of Christ.  If he does enough, then maybe he can bring back the dead.  And he does.

Catching up on quotes

 

Throughout 2011, a myriad of cultural events are planned to celebrate the KJB. And rightly so. It marks an influential turn in our cultural history. What will be irritating, however, is all those who want to make a fetish of the text itself: American fundamentalists who think it is the only acceptable translation – “the Bible fell from heaven in 1611”; windbag actors intoning thees and thous in a knowing sonorous baritone; public school bores who couldn’t care two hoots if the Bible is a faithful translation just as long as it’s the one they remember from chapel. The Bible needs saving from all of these.

Then there was this in the Telegraph – things are apparently not as bad as we thought, what might we do now our hopes of survival are less irrational, are we like the exiles returning, or are due a double recession?

There is also a question for us in the Church of Scotland, because we are not seeing a similar resurgence, our decline continues at a steady pace, what can we learn from the Baptists, the Pentecostals and the Catholics in their burgeoning basilicas and tremulent tabernacles?

Christmas Carols Can Be Bad For You

Serenity

I remember when I was first training to be a minister  I was invited along to the local Girls’ Brigade to share something about Christmas,

So I decided that I might share something about Christmas.

 

I think the captain of the GB, a lovely woman whom I was anxious to please, was concerned that her girls were showing insufficient interest in the Church, had missed some of the true meaning of Christmas, so I was enlisted to bring about of trendy – oh was trendy in those days, a sprightly youth- religion to the GB.

 

Unfortunately my chosen topic “Why Christmas Carols are nonsense” did not go down too well, with the purpose of this evening.

 

I said to the girls, as we read through Away in A Manger

“no crying he makes” – I asked, what would you think of a baby that never cried.

That baby would not be well they said.

 

What about this for a description of childbirth

“Silently, Oh silently the wondrous gift is given.”

Clearly had been written by a man.

 

Or “In the Bleak Midwinter” which is somehow based on the suggestion that it would have been snowing when Jesus was born,

That the third verse was about the fact that angels and archangels may have gathered there, but only Mary the mother of the child was allowed to kiss Jesus – the angelic kiss-prevention story does not feature in any of the gospel accounts.

And the final verse, suggesting that a lamb would be a good present for a newborn child.

 

This past week I have been looking at getting a sheep into Cathkin High School, and this has not been advised, due to the possible difficulties of having sheep in the presence of children.

 

Any shepherd wanting to present a day old child with a lamb might receive similar advice.

 

But these carols have the effect of making Christmas easy, comfortable (with its silent childbirth) for the people who were in it.

And all the time making it more and different from the Christmases that we experience, with their joy yes, with their sense of specialness, but also with their stress and anxiety and wonder about what is going to happen.

 

Snow on Monday

If you want a better cipher into understanding Christmas than Christmas Carols

It would be what happened on Monday.

 

With the experience that we had with the snow

 

Where something trying, incredibly challenging happened to a bunch of people who had never expected it

Who were cast into a threatening environment that was full of confusion.

Who did not get told in advance what was happening

And who were at times simply faced with a battle to get home

And yet who discovered something unique about themselves,

About life on the way

 

In that survival had known a certain joy.

 

Through Eyes Of Mary

This is what we are going to do this morning,

We are going to look at the Christmas story through the eyes of Mary

And in doing that

Christmas is going to be a bit less comfortable, a bit less serene, a bit less silent

And in that it is going to be a story that speaks more to people like us

Who are agitated, restless and clunky

Who shout extremities when no one is listening when we hurt ourselves

Or like me when someone is going slowly up a hill on front of me

That kind of noisiness, the opposite of silent,

The Christmas story is for me.

 

And to view the challenges of Christmas not as an intrusion into Christmas

As do the carol writers, who want Mary to be quiet in labour

Who want Jesus to be quiet when he is sleeping

Who want no angels to kiss Jesus

And who want well behaved infant friendly sheep.

 

But this noised, this agitation is not an intrusion,

But an essential part of Christmas.

 

We are going to close the gap

And in this I am grateful to a preacher called John Ortberg, whose preaching this sermon is indebted to, and Ortberg himself credits a New Testament Scholar called Scott McKnight, so we are also indebted to him also.

 

Angel Appears To Mary

When the angel appears to Mary,

And says to her greetings to you, o one most favoured by the Lord.

This would not have been an easy thing for Mary to get her head round.

 

Do you want to guess how many women at the time of Jesus were called “Mary”, what kind of percentage, probably about 50%,

There was not something about Mary

Everybody was Mary, Mary fitted in; there was nothing special about her,

 

And the angel tells Mary that she is going to become a mother through the Holy Spirit.

This is throwing Mary into a world of possible danger, of threat, of discomfort, which she does not know is going to turn out all well.

 

A woman that was caught sleeping with another man in Jesus day,

What would have happened to them is that they would have been dragged to a public place, she would have had her hair let down, her clothes torn to expose her body,

And it would be known that this girl had brought shame and disgrace to herself, her family and her whole village.

 

And when Mary hears the angel speak to her

She doesn’t know that that is not going to happen.

 

How is she going to tell her Dad?

This is an old piece of writing ,from about 200 years before the birth of Jesus, from Israel

Sirach 42:9-11

 

A daughter keeps her father secretly wakeful.

And worry over her robs him of sleep

When she is young lest she do not worry

Or if married, lest she be hated

While a virgin lest she be defiled

Or become pregnant in her Father’s house

Or having a husband lest she prove unfaithful

Or though married lest she be childless

 

Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter

Lest she make you a laughing stock to your enemies

A byword in the city and notorious among the people and put you to shame before the great multitude

 

 

When Mary goes to tell Joseph that she has become pregnant and that he is not the Father,

How is he going to react?

The Bible tells us, in Matthew’s gospel

“He made to divorce her?”

 

When a woman was divorced in Jesus day,

What would happen to that woman

That woman would stay in her Father’s house,

She would become a burden

She would be unmarriable

She would be without rights in a society where resources were scarce

You are at the back of the queue, you are a burden

And she does not know that this is not going to happen.

 

Mary lived in a small village, have you ever heard of gossip in a small village

Have you ever known people to have long memories about the mistakes that people made in their childhood.

 

There is are a couple of hints that this does happen in the gospel.

One of them is in Mark 6:3.  Jesus is in his home town, and the people are scandalised that one of their own seems to have ideas of grandeur, which not only make him seem big, but also make them seem small.

And so they say “is this not the carpenter”, “is this not the son of…”

And at this point, in Jewish culture, always the father would be named,

Because that is how people were known, but here they say

“Is this not the Son of Mary.”

People still remembered.

That she had been born, and the identity of the father was not certain,

And thirty years later, that was still remembered,

That mistake.

 

Did you ever do something right, and some other people thought it was a mistake

And they told you

And you felt bad, even though you did nothing wrong,

But some of the anger, the frustration you felt was internalised

And that you felt guilty, ashamed, even though you did nothing wrong.

 

Mary knows there is going to be gossip

What she does not know is how it will affect her.

 

And then there is the childbirth itself

By some estimates about 30% of mothers died in childbirth

Mary knows that the child will probably live,

But what about her?

Will she survive.

 

Can we read this story, with all that threat and still imagine that there should be anything silent, serene about the story of Jesus being born.

 

But there is more, because there is a whole political dimension to Jesus birth that we don’t often pick up on.

 

So that is the first piece of understanding that I want to bring to this story,

That Christmas would have been the cause of great discomfort to Jesus own mother.

 

Political Act

The second thing that I want to suggest is that Jesus being born was a political act.

 

Now this initially seems difficult to get our head round.

The death of Jesus seems possibly political – by Roman governor, at the hands of an unjust court,

But the birth of Jesus seems cute and cuddly,

Until you know some of the context that was around at Jesus’ time.

 

Caesars

The name of the family that ruled the Roman Empire from 49 BCE to 96 AD were the Caesars.

The first was Julius Caesar.

 

He was the man who united the Romans, then conquered Gaul (France as we know it today), Spain, and even parts of Britain, although we like to think that the Picts held the Roman leaders at bay, by the simple tactic of living on land that was so cold, so wet and so inhospitable that nobody else would want to live there.

 

When Caesar, this great unprecedently successful general died in 44BCE, there had already been suggestions that he might be a God,

But when he did, a few weeks later there appeared a comet in the Sky,

A Comet that is probably the brightest that has ever been seen on earth

And this Comet, was taken by many as a sign that Caesar was becoming a God,

And that this was his ascent into heaven.

So people would say “Caesar is God”

 

Later on his adopted Son Augustus, as he consolidated his empire, would refer to himself, and allow others to refer to him as the “Son of God.”

 

Furthermore, because he brought a kind of peace to the people of Rome, it was called the Pax Romana, it was peace by force, who had suffered for years of war, he was known as the “prince of Peace”

 

This is how one writer put it:

prince of peace’–bringer of tranquility–the deliverer–the deliverer from war and bloodshed. Truly with his advent, men could put up their swords. A golden glow spread its fingers over the world. Light–aureate sunlight–was the image of his reign. A golden age had dawned and mankind basked in the luster of his kingdom: happy, contented, at peace. For their cosmic benefactor–their savior (soter) bestowed upon them mercy, justice and freedom”

 

So when in a little corner of that Emperor, someone else starts being referred to as the Son of God

As the Saviour

As the Prince of Peace,

Those are loaded terms.

 

There is threat there

There is a sense of the inadequacy of the other one in Rome who is called Son of God

Prince of Peace

 

That he might have a rival, lie in a trough, in a village that no Roman emperor had ever heard of.

 

You don’t want to go around too loudly proclaiming a “Prince of Peace” in the Pax Romana,

So there was a threat in Jesus being born

A political threat.

 

And the gospel writers know this, how do they introduce the story of Jesus, words that hear every single Christmas

Luke 2:1

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

 

The Anawim

Finally, it helps us to know that about the time of Jesus birth

And for a few hundred years before Jesus,

There had existed some communities called the “Anawim”

 

Now the Anawim where communities of poor people,

Who had a peculiar sense of God’s justice,

And who sensed that strength was not to be found in wealth, or in power, or by getting ahead,

This was wasted energy,

 

What truly counted was the justice of God.

 

Listen to this excerpt from Isaiah chapter 9, which kind of tunes into those ideas:

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; 
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— 
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, 
the Spirit of counsel and of might, 
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— 
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, 
or decide by what he hears with his ears; 
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, 
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. “

Or Psalm 34

“Humble folk will fill with joy, as in God I glory”

 

Or this excerpt here from Psalm 9

18 But God will never forget the needy; 
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

19 Arise, LORD, do not let mortals triumph; 
let the nations be judged in your presence.

This is a setting of that psalm that I was once involved in,

Note the confident low note of confidence that runs here.

 

There is a sense in the songs of the Anawim, a joyful confidence that the world is going to be righted by God

That things eternally are not as they seem now.

God is at work, and we do not have run the rat race

And we do not have to stress ourselves with thoughts of equality with the wealthiest people we know

And we do not have to spend extra on presents for fear we look impoverished

God is at work.

 

In a world without God, maybe

But a world where God enacts justice is different from that.

 

Mary’s Song

So now we come to Mary’s song.

 

A woman who knows the threat that she is under, the threat she has been saved from

A woman who knows the political ramifications of Jesus

And a woman who probably belongs to one of these communities, the Anawim.

 

And so she reaches into her songbook

And songs of other mothers of Israel, particularly a woman called Hannah

 

And with her own imagination, and her own invention

She sings

 

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
holy is his name. 
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
from generation to generation. 
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
but has lifted up the humble. 
53 He has filled the hungry with good things 
but has sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel, 
remembering to be merciful 
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, 
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Some things are behind Mary – she has not been divorced, she has not been dragged into the square in Nazareth, made to stand in shame

 

And some things are ahead that she does not know about,

The day that Simeon will tell her that a sword will pierce her soul

The day that she will want Jesus to stop his mission, and his response will turn to a group of random strangers and say everybody here who does my will is my mother

The day that he will be turned out of town for the revolutionary nature of his preaching

The day that she will look upon her son as he dies upon his cross

 

None of that is known yet,

But in this moment

In this moment of inbetween, she puts her trust in the one who is here now

 

The only thing that any of us can ever do

Put our trust in the one who is here now

The friend of the poor

And say in him my soul delights.

 

And today I am going to sing to him

 

And I am going to side with the things that God sides

And the people that God is behind – the poor

And I am going to be wary of my alliances with the ones that God brings down

 

And I am going to sing that God is at work in this way in the world in my life now

And I am going to go into the unknowns of tomorrow with that God

And I am going to enjoy him today

 

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has been mindful 
of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
holy is his name. 
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
from generation to generation. 
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

Mary was not spared stress

Mary was not kept pristine

Mary was not kept from the gossip of the malicious

 

 

Mary was not silent

Mary sang

A song that reverberates round all this world

And one that we echo

My soul glorifies the Lord.

And my Spirit rejoice s in God my saviour.

 

AMEN

Drew Draws Advent

 

 

Gloria

After studying at the Angel Room ceiling at Overtoun House I started to look at the Art History of angels and why they are portrayed as women or babies with wings.

What I learned is that everything mentioned in the Bible about Angels (the Greek or Hebrew word simply means messenger) doesn’t lead you to an easy portrait of what they look like except they were frightening to behold.

The paintings, cartoons and tree ornament depiction of angels comes more from Greek and Roman mythology reinforced by great Renaissance artists like Raphael, Michaelangelo and Titain.  Take Cupid the Roman god of Love (Eros to the Greeks) often portrayed as a naked winged child.  If you took away his arrows and Valentine hearts he would look positively angelic.  Or Victory the Roman goddess of victory (Nike to the Greeks) a winged female figure appearing from above to crown victorious generals and athletes with a wreath.

When Christianity became the official religion of Rome the artists basically looked to the old ways for inspiration on how to paint these new celestial beings.

Do Angels have wings?  Some do like Cerubim (Ezekiel 10) and Seraphim (Isaiah 6) but in early Christian art they were generally ‘wingless’.  Are Angels men or women?  The Bible doesn’t give them a gender but they often appear as men.  Do they play harps?  Maybe it can be inferred from Revelation 5:8.

If all this seems a little in depth don’t worry I pulled alot of it from a document I wrote several years ago which joined two interests of mine Art History and Christianity.

Todays cartoon is just a play on the long ‘Gloooooria’ we sing in carols.  Its also a bit of an experiment in Photoshop layers.