Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – The Literalist’s Christmas (Luke 2; Matthew 1&2)

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about (Mt.1:18)

How it irks some people to hear the Christmas Story. This week I saw a YouTube video by a self-proclaimed atheist purporting to debunk the whole business and setting out all the pagan motifs and festivals that have been usurped – “stolen” – by Christians to give us the familiar Christmas emblems. Oh, perfidy thy name is Christian!

I recall a conversation I had with a Jehovah’s Witness who explained conspiratorially that the famous children’s “Ladybird Books” had produced a little volume explaining the origins of many of our familiar Christmas customs. He explained, sotto voce, that “they” didn’t like it and so the volume was mysteriously removed from the shelves of WH Smith. Next day I went to a book store and bought a copy off the shelf and have it on my desk as I write this. It is called “Christmas Customs” and has a publication date of 1988. I am not sure who “they” are but, to date “they” haven’t turned up to take me to task over the issue so I feel safe enough.

Most of the cosy and heart-warming motifs we relish today were given us by Charles Dickens, including snow. How often have children in the UK looked out their windows on Christmas morning and felt that pang of disappointment at seeing the ground barren and bare with no covering of snow? More often than not is my experience.

The reason we think of snow at Christmas is that Dickens always portrayed it that way. In his own childhood, it snowed for eight Christmases in a row, from 1812 -1820, the first eight years of his life. This was his abiding memory of the festive season and so it got put into his books, along with a good deal else that seems so appropriate for the Festive Season.

Christian Customs

Here are some more customs we associate with the season:

Carols: Come from the Greek word for chorus and means a round song. Originally carols were sung throughout the year to mark different festivals, such as Midsummer, Easter, May that hails the growing season and November that celebrates the harvest.

The Crib: Was first made by St Francis and was originally a real cave, containing real animals and Mary and Joseph played by real people. It dramatises the story and no bad thing when you are trying to get folk to imagine what it must have been like.

Holly and ivy: Holly is a symbol of good luck and of man, while ivy was thought to be a symbol of woman. Holly and ivy intertwined was traditionally supposed to ensure peace and harmony in the home. Christians linked the symbols to the Christmas story and all the elements are there in the song. The white flower of holly symbolising Christ’s purity, the red berry his blood, the prickle his crown of thorns and the bitter taste of its bark the bitter vinegar offered him on the Cross. The ivy is included because of its association with an older, pagan version of the song depicting rivalry between male and female. Of course, there is always the evergreen motif for everlasting life.

Christmas cards: The first Christmas card was sent by Sir Henry Cole who, on finding himself short of time to write letters, commissioned an artist to design a festive card to send to friends. These days we have cards made for us every year and still find ourselves short of time.

Advent: is the period of four weeks before Christmas when we watch for the advent (coming) of the Lord. Advent calendars originally held appropriate Christmas scenes behind twenty four numbered doors to concentrate our minds on this special season.

Twelfth Night: celebrates the coming of the wise men with gifts for the new-born king. This marks the official end of the Christmas season and, if you haven’t already done so, you should take down your decorations now.

Yes, the story has grown down the centuries and all sorts of things have been pressed into service to relate the history and significance of those events faithfully recounted in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The story is familiar enough and if you haven’t seen it acted out in a local church or school nativity play then you have missed a treat. What really happened on that first Christmas and what are we to make of the legends, icons and motifs that have grown up around this event?

As it has come down to us through centuries of telling and retelling Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem late at night after a long and arduous journey. Travelling from Inn to Inn they found themselves turned away. Finally, a friendly innkeeper took pity on them and, since his rooms were all taken, offered them a stable as accommodation.

That same night Jesus was born in a stable and laid in an animal feeding trough, a manger. Shepherds on a hill heard the “first noel”, the song of the angels announcing Jesus’ advent and wise men, perhaps astronomers, travelled from the east to pay homage to the newborn king.

However, there would almost certainly have been no Inns in Bethlehem, no hotels or commercial accommodation. Bethlehem was a small village set apart from main routes so there would be no commercial advantage in having an Inn.

No Room at the Inn?

It is worth remembering that Mary and Joseph were travelling back to their home village. Surely there would have been some relatives there and surely that would have been their first port of call in seeking accommodation. Middle Eastern rules of hospitality would have demanded that room would have been found for them.

So where did this idea of the Inn come from? They key is in Luke 2:7 where we read:

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn”

The Greek word translated “inn” is kataluma and can be found again in Luke 22:11 to refer to the guest room where Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. The normal word for “inn” is pandocheion, used in Luke 10:34 to describe the place where the Good Samaritan took his injured friend:

“Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him”

Joseph and Mary would have put up with his closest relatives in the village; of not Joseph’s then Mary’s. It was a planned journey and so Joseph would surely have had the wit to make plans. They would not have arrived so late in Mary’s term and so probably arrived weeks before, giving them time to make the appropriate arrangements. In such a home there would have been one main room and, if they could afford it, a guest room – kataluma. In a lower area of the main room there would have been a place where animals were brought in at night.

If the guest room was full then here, among the domestic beasts, that Jesus was born and “laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room”. There would have been a midwife, family and the simple comforts of a Bethlehem home. Jesus was born in the main room of a peasant home.

Keeping Perspective, Maintaining the Truth

A combination of misunderstanding language and cultural references, embellishing and romanticising the story has led to the nativity story as we know it today from school Christmas nativities and there is a lesson here in Bible interpretation. It is important to find and tell the truth but it is also important to remember that culture plays an important and inevitable part in the stories we tell.

From Shakespeare on the estate to Bible characters dressed in medieval dress in great paintings we recast old stories to fit them into our own culture and time. It helps us to identify with important events from distant times and places, and that is alright, as long as we identify and pass on the essential elements of the story.

Mary and Joseph were ordinary people with an extraordinary pedigree who were used mightily of God to usher in the time of refreshing from God, when grace would fulfil law and faith would receive hope in Christ. Theirs was a testing experience notwithstanding the help of family and the assurances of God and their example of faithfulness is an inspiration.

Jesus was Immanuel “God with us” and he really was “with us”, identifying with the poor and outcast in his conception, birth, life and death. His coming was the fulfilment of prophecy and announced by angels to the poorest in society, his life was sought from the beginning and he was a fugitive and outcast. Wise men sought him and seek him still because Christmas marks the beginning of a journey that would end on Calvary. Calvary where Christ died for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:17)

There are many things in life to celebrate, to sing carols about and to give us cheer and consolation in an otherwise difficult world and we mustn’t let the literalists rob us of the joy of this special season. The next time someone (you know who I mean) tells you the truth about Christmas’ pagan roots tell them the truth about Jesus and defy them to be miserable in the face of such great good news.

A very Happy Christmas

Woman died after refusing transfusion - Local & National, News - Belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Mrs Baxter, of Naas, Co Kildare, died of acute cardiac failure caused by blood problems in Tallaght Hospital on September 15, 2009. The Jehovah's Witness died five days after surgery to remove a tumour from her colon, after which she suffered significant bleeding.
Surgeon Diarmuid O'Riordan told the inquest there was a “98% to 99% chance she would have survived if she was given the appropriate blood transfusion”.
A woman with a 98% chance of surviving surgery dies because she has refused blood. The madness of this tragic decision becomes even more incredible when you realise that the blood issue came about, not because of a biblical injunction to abstain, nor from a misinterpretation of Bible verses regarding blood, but because of one mad man’s irrational opposition to vaccination.

In 1919 Clayton J Woodward became editor of the JW publication The Golden Age magazine. in 1923 an article appeared that proved the first shot in a salvo against vaccinations. Under the title The Great Vaccination Fraud! the writer claimed, “It has been shown conclusively that there is no such thing as rabies”

A 1925 edition however commended the man who frequently donated blood.

But in 1929 the magazine declared, "Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccinations, . . . Hence the practice of vaccination is a crime, an outrage and a delusion . . . it has never saved a single life"

In 1931 Witnesses were told, “vaccinations are a violation of the Eternal Covenant God made with Noah”

In 1931 members were informed, "All reasonable minds must conclude that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man."

In 1945 blood transfusions and all blood products were officially banned as pagan and dishonouring to God.

In 1951 Woodworth died and in 1952 the organisation declared that vaccinations were now officially allowed; but the ban on blood transfusions has stayed. You can read more here

It was never about blood at the beginning but vaccinations which, according to God’s mouthpiece, were a fraud and an abomination. It became about blood because of the association with vaccinations and transfusions by vaccinations. But since 1952 vaccinations have been allowed so why hang on to the blood transfusion nonsense?

It beggars belief until you realise that it is about power and control. And when you see the people who are in control that’s when you really start to worry. You think governments are bad; take a look at that crowd in Brooklyn HQ and thank God that at least we can vote governments out. Who is going to get rid of the guys at the top of the Watchtower? What comfort is there for the family of this poor deceived woman and many like her?

Woman died after refusing transfusion - Local & National, News - Belfasttelegraph.co.uk

FLDS: State pleased with sentence» Standard-Times

It hardly seems credible that this kind of thing could happen. We have unfortunately become used to, although I hope not inured to stories of men and women preying on the young and vulnerable to satisfy their own perverted sexual gratification. We call it paedophilia or pederasty and express our abhorrence at such things, regarding perpetrators as sick and dangerous members of society. Nothing provokes people’s ire as does this crime.

Yet in our 21st century society, there are men and women who staunchly defend such activities on religious grounds, subjecting girls as young as 14 and 15 to loveless “marriages” to middle-aged or even elderly men. Young men in the community are driven away as unwanted rivals, becoming waifs and orphans, victims themselves of this twisted systematic abuse. Young girls are threatened with eternal damnation if they do not abide by the commands of their elders and leaders. But our elders are supposed to be our betters and not our stalkers!

And who did this thing first? Why, Joseph Smith, the 19th Century pederast, cult leader and demagogue. If it hadn’t been for Joseph Smith these things would not be happening today. The Mormon Church denies any association or culpability; but the Mormon Church lies.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Allan Keate raised his two cuffed hands Thursday, shortly after he heard the sentence of 33 years in prison for sexual assault of a child, and smiled briefly at the gallery, at more than a dozen fellow members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — men and women, adults young and old…

Outside the makeshift courthouse, lead prosecutor Eric Nichols stepped into the harsh light of television cameras at about 10 p.m. and read a prepared statement.

He said Keate’s victim, 15 years old at the time of the assault, which occurred around April 2006, had been in a “celestial marriage” twice.

Celestial marriages are unofficial religious betrothals that FLDS members use to practice polygamy.

Nichols said Keate had given away three of his daughters in marriage to older men. Two of those daughters were 15 and one was 14, and the last was given away to Warren Jeffs, then prophet of the FLDS who has been imprisoned for aiding in child rape by transporting a young girl across state lines.

FLDS: State pleased with sentence» Standard-Times

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Have a Happy Mormon Christmas!

Its Christmas for Pete's sake and if we can't raise a smile and laugh at ourselves at such a merry time - well...Have a Merry Christmas

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – A Shepherd and King (2 Samuel 5:2)

One of the arresting but often overlooked aspects of the Christmas story is that not Herod nor the priests with whom he consulted had any doubt or were in any way confused about the fact that the well known reference in Micah 5:2 (c.f. Mt.2:5-6) alluded to a person, that he would come from Bethlehem, and be the Messiah.

“But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel”

The final line in this verse finds its parallel in 2 Sam.5:2, which describes how “all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron” to make him their king and the parallels with the life of Jesus are so striking as to be prophetic. The Sanhedrin or Supreme Court of the Jews applied these words in Micah and 2 Samuel to the Messiah and prophecy came true before their eyes.

David was born in Bethlehem – 1 Sam.16

Jesus was born in Bethlehem – Luke 2:4-7

David was beloved – 1 Sam.16:13 (the meaning of the name David is “Beloved”)

Jesus was beloved – Mt.3:17

David was anointed of God – 1 Sam.16:13

Jesus was anointed of God – Lk.4:18-21

David received position and honour – 2 Sam.7:13

Jesus received position and honour – Lk.1:32-33

David passed through humiliation to exaltation – 2 Sam.22:17-20

Jesus passed through humiliation to exaltation – John 18

We have often seen in our studies how God has brought about his purposes from the most unlikely and unexpected of circumstances yet here there is a clear understanding of what God was going to do, and yet a blind determination to prevent it.

In his Commentary on Matthew William Hendriksen observed:

“When anyone reads such precious Old Testament passages – and this includes also Gen.3:15; 22:18; 49:10 2 Sam.7:12,13; Isa.7:14; 8:8; 9:6 and many, many others – without seeing the Christ in them, is he not reading them blindly? See Lk.24:25-27,32)

The world today, and indeed the church in the world, is crying out for a shepherd and the Bible says of God’s Son that he will shepherd the people of Israel. We must first trust that when circumstances seem impossible to us nothing is impossible to God; we must believe that God is true to his promises and not appoint our own “saviours” in this world and we must know those promises intimately so that when his anointed Saviour appears we will know him and rejoice in his appearing.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Where is the Great Crowd?

Who needs a Bible when you have the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and the indepth, probing articles of the Watchtower?

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Saved From Our Saviours (Psalm 78:70-72)

We live in difficult times and Christians seem increasingly marginalised and under fire from a world that has lost patience with religion in general and with the church in particular. You can almost hear, as you open the newspapers and listen to the pundits and commentators, “We will not have this man to be our king!” We have an idea in our minds of how we think things ought to be in our picture of “the last days”, “Preparing the church” or “building the kingdom” depending on your eschatology. “The battle belongs to the Lord!” we cry, and wonder why it doesn’t look like it. In such times it is natural to feel that it’s all gone wrong; to cast around looking for someone or something to make it the way it ought to be.

This was the situation Samuel faced after God had rejected King Saul. Would Israel survive without Saul’s leadership? What happened to the plan we thought we had? Is God no longer with his people? Things looked bad for Israel and Samuel had much on his mind when God spoke:

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king’” (1 Samuel 16:1)

When things seem out of control God is always in control. Samuel’s grief was understandable, even commendable because it wasn’t just the king he had on his heart but the people. But where Samuel saw a problem God already saw the one who would be anointed king.

When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem he saw Jesse’s son Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed stands here before the LORD.” (16:6) and you can understand why. Samuel’s picture of a king was Saul, who is described in chapter 9 v.2 as, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.” But God knew what Samuel was thinking:

“The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’”

With each of Jesse’s seven sons it was the same, a grand young man by Samuel’s reckoning and a source of great pride on Jesse’s part but, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.”

How often, in times of trouble, do we flock to the obvious choice, the pastor who is well thought of in the community, the platform speaker who can draw the crowds, the ones who appear to have influence, the movers and shakers who appear to be God’s choice. It is well to remember at such times that we must not choose as Samuel might have chosen but, like Samuel, we must wait on the Lord to show us the way. We must look on the heart of a man, which to us is best demonstrated by his prayer life, his family life, his devotion to biblical truth and his burden for the saints and the lost.

We sometimes need saving from the saviours of our own choosing. God’s choice was a young man so insignificant that it didn’t even occur to Jesse to call him in from the fields where he tended sheep and yet the psalmist declares:

“He chose David his servant

and he took him from the sheep pens;

from tending the sheep he brought him

to be the shepherd of his people

Jacob,

of Israel his inheritance.

And David shepherded them with

integrity of heart;

with skilful hands he led them.