“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” (Luke 2:15-21)
There is one word that best describes the night the Lord Jesus was born – ordinary. The sky was ordinary. An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air. The stars were like diamonds sparkling on black velvet. Fleets of clouds floated in front of the moon. It was a beautiful night – a night worth peeking out of your bedroom window to admire – but not an unusual one. No reason to expect a surprise. Nothing to keep you awake. An ordinary night with an ordinary sky. The sheep were ordinary too. Some fat. Some scrawny. Some with barrel bellies. Some with twig legs. Common animals. No fleece made of gold. No history makers. No blue-ribbon winners. They were simply sheep – sleeping silhouettes on a hillside. And the shepherds? Peasants they were. Ancestors of today’s Bedouin. Wearing all the clothes they owned. Smelling like sheep and looking just as woolly. True they were conscientious, and hardy as well, to spend every night outside guarding their flocks. But you won’t find their staffs in a museum. You won’t find their writings in a library. No one asked for their opinion on social justice or the meaning of the Torah. They were anonymous, simple, ordinary people.
I was recently invited to give a series of lectures in a dozen or so universities across Iran and dialogued with Islamic scholars in Qom. The Q&A session after each presentation was a lively affair – longer in fact than my presentations. The most frequently asked question concerned the reliability of the Bible. What did I think about Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code? Apparently more than a billion people worldwide believe the views popularized in the Da Vinci Code.
They believe the message of the Bible has been corrupted and distorted, that Jesus is not the Son of God, but a prophet and that he did not die on the cross or rise from the dead.
They believe that in 325AD the Emperor Constantine commissioned the writing of the New Testament we now have which portrays Jesus as a divine figure. Dozens of other “gospels” were censored or destroyed. Constantine actually summoned the Council of Nicaea to end disunity caused by the Arian controversy. Arius taught that although Jesus was the Son of God, he was less than the Father. The Council was attended by around 300 bishops. The Arian Creed was soundly rejected. The Nicene Creed was accepted by 298 Bishops. 2 were against. (i.e., over 99% in favour). The Council of Nicaea recognized Jesus as “begotten not made, of the same substance (homousios) as the Father.”
This year’s ReNew conference was organised by Anglican Mission in England, Church Society, and Reform and held in Leeds under the title Gospel Advance. The major theological theme of the conference explored the Atonement. Contributors included Christopher Ash, Sam Allberry, George Crowder, Matthew Mason, Vaughan Roberts, Rob Scott, Glen Scrivener, William Taylor, Rico Tice, Robin Weekes, and Paul Williams.
A sermon by Richard Bewes, Rector Emeritus, in our series on the privileges of Church Membership
Apart from treason, membership of this exclusive club has been handed down from father to son since the 14th Century. Membership of what is probably the second oldest club in Britain carries with it certain privileges. Besides a title, there is the right to be excused jury service, from serving as a witness, and – very usefully – freedom from arrest in civil cases. These are just some of the perks. A 24 hour members-only bar, a free parking place in central London and residence in one of the most sought after postcodes in Britain go with it as well. Since 1999, when the membership criteria were relaxed and it was possible for literally anyone to buy their way in, things seem to have gone downhill. And with a threatened Brexit rebellion this week, the future of a hereditary House of Lord’s is once again being threatened. Presently, all peers are appointed by political parties, apart from the 92 hereditary peers who survived the first phase of Lords reform, along with 24 Church of England Bishops and the Law Lords. Membership of the oldest club in Britain has never been something you could earn, or buy or indeed ever deserve for public service. That is because the word ‘membership’ is of Christian origins.
On a recent BA flight I read an article by Ben Hammersley about his new Tikker watch (see www.mytikker.com ) and now I want one for my birthday. The Tikker is no ordinary watch. It doesn’t just tell you the time – it tells you how long you have left to live. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Ben writes,
“Do you have any idea how long you have left, well, actually? In total? To live? I do. It’s counting down on my wrist as I type this. I have, according to my watch, 44 years, ten months, five days, six hours, ten minutes to go. Even less by the time you read this, of course, and the information is coming to me every time I glance at my wrist. I’m wearing a Tikker watch, calibrated against my date of birth, nationality and other pertinent things, and displaying a forever depleting time left to my, actuarially predicted, statistically average, time of death. The brainchild of Tikker founder Fredrik Colting — a Swedish former gravedigger…”
Fredrik obviously had plenty of time on his hands. One of the things I love to do on a flight is watch the map of the world going by and the timer ticking down to the arrival time. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have one for our life journey too? Fredrik hits the nail in the coffin,
Let me ask you 10 questions.[i] In the last 4 weeks,
- How often did you feel tired out for no good reason?
- How often did you feel nervous?
- How often did you feel so nervous that nothing could calm you down?
- How often did you feel hopeless?
- How often did you feel restless or fidgety?
- How often did you feel so restless you could not sit still?
- How often did you feel depressed?
- How often did you feel that everything was an effort?
- How often did you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?
- How often did you feel worthless?
What will bring on the feeling of nausea most quickly for you? Is it the debris left on pavements by people who have drunk excessive amounts of alcohol the night before? Or maybe it’s those little presents left for you to step in by anti-social dog walkers who don’t clean up afterwards? Displays of wobbling body tissue resulting from a diet rich in carbohydrates is high on my list. But what is most likely to cause you to faint? For me it is the sight of blood in the wrong place, especially my own. What is it about blood that makes us queasy, nauseous or likely to faint? Perhaps it is because deep down in our subconscious we equate blood with life. There are seven essential biological functions of blood that keep us alive.
- Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to every cell in our body.
- White blood cells defend the body against invading microorganisms.
- Blood transports nutrients from the digestive system and when needed, from our storage reserves to every cell of the body. So fat is beautiful. Well some…
- Blood transports hormones from our endocrine glands to target tissues in need.
- Blood removes metabolic wastes from every cell to organs that excrete them.
- Blood helps maintain fluid balance in the whole body.
- Blood helps distribute metabolic heat within the body to maintain a healthy body temperature.