I have been trying for the last three hours to reflect on what Christmas 2008 has meant to me, and it has proved to be a most difficult task.
The major change this year has been being in a different place to previous years, having already relocated to my Phase One station in Uitenhage. In previous years Christmas has always been an "at home" affair for my family, and it's not since our honeymoon some 17 years ago that my wife and I have spent Christmas anywhere but at "home".
I need to however place the word "home" in perspective. For my wife, son, and mother, "home" is still going to be Joburg for the near-foreseeable future until such point my moves become less frequent than they are in the early phases of probation. Yet I am somewhat torn in my sense of "home", for if home is meant to be where the heart is, then in family terms "home" will be in Joburg, yet in ministry terms "home" is here in Uitenhage - for the next year, at least.
The other thing that seemed a bit strange this year is that for so many years my local church has been like the pub in "Cheers" - a place "where everybody knows your name". While I have already met quite a few people since arriving here about 2 weeks ago, for the most part my presence at the two services we attended yesterday were punctuated by "who's that" and "is that the new Phase One" being heard around the sanctuary. While the minister who conducted the services did introduce me, I am just a guy with a piece of Tupperware around his neck to most people at this stage.
I've also been extremely slack with presents this year. While my Mom was easy to buy for (Il Divo has just released a CD), and I took the easy way out with my son by giving him some cash (towards a book, a Nintendo Wii game, or whatever), I haven't as yet got anything for my better half!
Last night I had a weird dream involving mostly friends from school. It's as though subconsciously I have re-wound my life 23 years, as I try to put my life into some form of perspective. While many of those school friends would have known that I wanted to become an accountant (one of whom was responsible for the pineapple brew that I refer to in my blog profile), very few know that I have entered the ministry. I would wager that most would probably be shocked!
Now I'm sure that most of you who have stayed with me thus far in ploughing through this post must be asking: "Well, okay, he's a minister, therefore presumably he's a Christian, so where's the 'spiritual bit'? No quotes from Scripture, or lengthy discourses on the Christmas Day sermon?" Well, to be honest, this year it hasn't really "felt" like Christmas to me, probably because of all the changes that are taking place in my life right now.
But one of the things that was mentioned in yesterday's message is that, unlike the words to "Silent Night" may seem to indicate, all was NOT calm when Jesus came to the earth. A young woman becomes pregnant, and despite her child having beeen conceived by the Holy Spirit, she would still have had to deal with the taunts and stigma of one who became pregnant before her wedding day. Then the government decided to conduct a census, forcing the young family to travel just as Mary's pregnancy reached an advanced stage. Then, as she was about to give birth, Bethlehem resembled Durban Beach on New Year's Day and there was no room to be found for love or money. The barn in which the baby Jesus was born was probably not the serene image presented in most nativity scenes - cows, sheep, and goats are NOT the quietest creatures around! Then to add insult to injury, Herod reacts to the perceived threat to his earthly throne in the most dramatic way possible by issuing an order to have all infant boys killed, resulting in another relocation (this time to Egypt)!
So for me, the message of Christmas 2008 is not "silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright" (although I normally love singing this carol). Rather, this year Jesus has once again made Himself real to me by showing that in the midst of chaos and turmoil, that's the moment that He chooses to reveal His presence. Just over 2000 years ago, this presence was in the form of a humble child, born into chaos, to become not only the greatest teacher the world has ever known, but also "the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world".
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for being there in the midst of chaos.
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