Category Archives: Christmas

Where do you long to be?

moana-november-2016“There’s a line where the sky meets the sea
And it calls me
But no one knows how far it goes
All the time wondering where I need to be
Is behind me
I’m on my own
To worlds unknown”

I wonder if you can identify with Moana singing “How Far I’ll Go” in the lavish new Disney film?

“Every turn I take
Every trail I track
Is a choice I make
Now I can’t turn back
From the great unknown
Where I go alone
Where I long to be”

When you look at the beauty of the world around you, does it fill you with a sense of wonder? Does its abundance inspire you to praise God?  Are you thankful just to be alive? Are you frustrated with the world the way it is? Does the presence of evil and suffering impel you to want to help those in need? Are you restless? Are you longing to fulfil your destiny?  I encourage you to see the film Moana.

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The Dark Side of Christmas

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Congratulations. You have made it to the other side of Christmas. All of the anticipation, the parties, the shopping, the preparations, the cooking and the hassle are over. We’ve opened the presents, we’ve eaten the turkey and bade farewell to the relatives. What are we left with?  I’ve called this the “Dark side of Christmas” because it’s the part of the Christmas story we don’t usually cover, at least not when the children are present. It’s a story of dictators, state terrorism, ethnic cleansing, homelessness, refugees.

Where did we go wrong? Francis of Assisi in the 13th Century was the first to create the iconic image of Christmas: the live Nativity Scene. St Francis loved animals, and for an outdoor midnight Mass in the mountain town of Greccio, Italy, he enhanced the Christmas scene, described in the Gospel of Luke by adding an ox and a donkey. Do you have a Nativity set at home? Besides having some extra-biblical animals added by St Francis, you very likely have some people mentioned in the Bible who are missing. An entrepreneurial Italian firm advertises some additional figures to complete your Nativity set.

The Dark Side of Christmas from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

They are of course the Roman soldiers with drawn swords. Imagine how different the school Christmas Nativity would be if after Mary and Joseph had left the stage with baby Jesus, on came Roman soldiers who attacked the shepherds and the inn keeper? Unlikely to catch on is it? If our Christmas nativity scene is incomplete, it also tends to be sanitized as well. Our Christmas cards and even the lyrics of our carols perpetuate an idyllic scene. The stable is warm and cozy. The hay is clean. The animals are domesticated. There are no loud noises or strong smells. But our nativity scene is not just incomplete and sanitized it has been swept of scandal also. The primary reason Jesus was born in a stable was not because the inns were full. Offering hospitality, even to strangers, is the norm in the Middle East. Remember Joseph’s relatives and extended family lived in Bethlehem. Why didn’t his own family take them in? Its obvious isn’t it? Jesus was most likely born in a stable because Joseph and his pregnant girlfriend were shunned. They were an embarrassment.

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Making the Most of Christmas Time

fourstagesoflifeThey say there are four stages in life. In the first stage you believe in Father Christmas. In the second stage you don’t believe in Father Christmas. In the third stage you are Father Christmas. In the final stage you just look like Father Christmas. Doesn’t time fly? It’s Christmas Eve again. Another year. Hard to believe the year went so quickly.  Have you noticed how the pace of life seems to accelerate the older you get? Why does time seem to speed up? There is apparently a scientific explanation for this perplexing phenomena. But with most scientific theories there are several explanations.

  1. Proportional Time: The most common explanation is that time is perceived as a proportion of time we have lived. To a five-year-old, a year is a long time because it is 20% of their entire existence. To a 62 year-year-old like me, one year is less than 2% of your life. Proportional time.
  2. Complex Time: Another theory is that as we get older, life gets busier and we have more things to do.

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Jesus at the Christmas Movies

disney-characters-header-imageIt has become a popular tradition at Christ Church, Virginia Water, for the sermon at the Christmas Carol Service to feature one of the films being shown in cinemas in December. Here are some from previous years:

Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens  (2015)
The Gospel According to Paddington Bear  (2014)
Frozen: A Story to Melt Your Heart  (2013)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  (2012)
Arthur Christmas Meets Jesus  (2011)
A Lion in the Manger  (2010)
The Purpose of Christmas  (2009)
The Day the Earth Stood Still  (2008)
His Dark Materials  (2007)
Always Winter Never Christmas  (2005)
The Incredibles  (2004)
The Return of the King  (2003)

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Jesus and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John 1:1-14)

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016You would really have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already set new box office records in the USA and the UK.  Indeed the latest sci-fi drama is predicted to become the highest grossing film of all-time, perhaps succeeded only by the two anticipated sequels. Given its epic story and massive popularity, it is worth exploring why, for example in the 2011 UK Census 176,632 people described themselves as Jedi knights. The criteria are really quite appealing. 1) Fight evil. 2) Do good. 3) respect all life even if it is ugly and slithers. 4) rescue princess. 5) save planet. Clearly the mystical Force that binds all things together in Star Wars does not equate with the personal infinite Creator God revealed in Scripture. Nevertheless, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the conviction that all life is somehow divinely charged. Obi-Wan’s teaching that the Force “surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together” strikingly mirrors the imagery of the Bible which reveals, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he expands on this:

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

There is much more to Star Wars than a cool new world with aliens, spaceships, hi-tech gadgets, a princess, and a darkly evil bad guy. We are drawn to a story of “an underdog who takes on an evil Empire of unsurpassed power, overwhelming technology, and unchecked authority” with impossible odds (Caleb Grimes). Josh Hayes observes, “This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because at some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one.” Because we bear God’s image, we have a sense of purpose, we believe history is going somewhere, that life matters.

Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves… “Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation.  Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The underdog winning against the seemingly invincible. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style. They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story.” (Josh Hayes).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, points us, however imperfectly to three profound truths written large in our Bible reading from John’s gospel tonight about God’s story – our story:

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Don’t be Afraid of Christmas

Mary-of-Nazareth-NativityToday is without doubt, the largest, the longest, the most joyful, colourful and costly celebrations in the whole world. Literally billions of people, have set aside their normal routines to take a midweek holiday, decorate their homes, send greeting cards, buy special gifts to give, attend church services and parties, sing Christmas carols and travel long distances to be with family. And in an hour or two, depending on their time zone, people will be sitting down for one of the largest, most colourful and tasty meals of the year. And most of us will eat too much and need a short nap afterwards. Isn’t it incredible that the simple birth of Jesus in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago has caused such ripples?

The anniversary of his birthday each year leads to record retail sales and traffic jams as far away as New York, Tokyo and Sydney. So special is Jesus birthday that your own birthday is dated from his! Every single time we check the calendar, or refer to a date, or write one in our diary, we are using Jesus birthday as our reference point.

And what does celebrating Jesus birthday signify? That God loves you. God is with you. And God is for you.

Dont be Afraid of Christmas from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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Christmas Eve: The Purpose of Christmas

The Purpose of Christmas from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

Trains were humming, loudspeakers blaring, porters rushing about shouting at one another, and altogether there was so much noise that Mr Brown, who saw him first, had to tell his wife several times before she understood. ‘A bear? On Paddington station?’ Mrs Brown looked at her husband in amazement. ‘Don’t be silly, Henry. There can’t be!” “Seeing that something was expected of it the bear stood up and politely raised its hat, revealing two black ears. ‘Good afternoon,’ it said, in a small clear voice … The bear puffed out its chest. ‘I’m a very rare sort of bear,’ he replied importantly. ‘There aren’t many of us left where I come from.’ ‘And where is that?’ asked Mrs Brown. The bear looked round carefully before replying. ‘Darkest Peru. I’m not really supposed to be here at all. I’m a stowaway.'”[1]

Michael Bond’s marmalade sandwich-loving Peruvian bear first appeared in 1958’s A Bear Called Paddington. Now the star of his very own film, Paddington, is a charming and funny adventure about a very polite and friendly orphan bear who yearns for adoption and new home in London.

At the Carol Services, we realised that we are all a little like Paddington, orphaned, lost, vulnerable, in need of adoption. But tonight, because the children should all be fast asleep by now, I want us to consider “Paddington Bear for Grownups”. Michael Bond, Paddington’s creator, says the inspiration came from seeing Jewish evacuee children pass through Reading railway station from London during the Kindertransport of the late 1930s. “They all had a label round their neck with their name and address on, and a little case or package containing all their treasured possessions. So Paddington, in a sense, was a refugee, and I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.”[2]

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