Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Surprised by kindness

I hope Christmas proved joyful for you with some good worship, food and gatherings. After a quiet Christmas (interrupted noisily by the family on Dec. 27th) we are enjoying the lull before 2016 powers forward.  Just before Christmas, Carol and I visited a nearby small town and carefully parked our new automatic car in the main car park. Painted 'frozen white' it sparkled.  Returning 2 hours later an innocent looking note on the front windscreen invited me to look at the rear driver's side where Dan had swung into the back panel, crunching it inwards and scraping along the back.  He left his phone number and promise to pay.  When I called him and thanked him for his honesty he apologized for hitting the new car.  He seemed genuinely sorry!

A neighbor recommended a family body repair shop in a village not far away. When I arrived a likeable young man assessed the damage, pulled out a very ordinary looking screw driver and prized the panel back into position. Just like that!  I couldn't believe my eyes.  He said the deep scratches were of a different order and his boss (due back shortly) would need to give me a quote for re-spraying.

His boss took one look, commented that it was 'frozen white' and he would need to mix the exact match.  Soon he was back and with deft dabs and a drier the scratches disappeared. Marvelling I asked him what I owed. 'Nothing' he replied, 'what's a dab of paint between friends!'  Never having met him before you can imagine my surprise and delight.  And when I told Dan what had happened there was even more delight!
What a lovely thing to happen - quite out of the blue.  That of course - something wonderful quite out of the blue - is what happened on the biggest scale imaginable at the birth of Christ, who has come to change everything for the better.  And he makes all the difference as we soon embark on a New Year, doesn't he?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pub Carolling

Last night Carol and I joined a group from different Histon churches to sing Christmas carols in some village pubs.  We both arrived on time to discover the first pub was quietly unsuspecting of any carolers only to realize we were in the wrong pub!  Further along the road, the Red Lion was rocking with brass instruments leading the way with a loud (and surprisingly) tuneful group. Later on we moved further along to pack out the King Bill (where a group of us often enjoy chicken and chips on Wednesdays).  The publicans Suzie and Mark provided mince pies and stollen for all and sundry as the singing hit the rafters.

What amazed me was the enthusiasm of all the pub-goers who even asked for an encore. Smiles were on all the faces as they lustily joined in.  Apparently, the Histon grapevine had broadcast our presence beforehand and some people had come specially.  Said the man, nursing his pint, seated next to where I was standing "I normally come on Wednesdays but I wanted to be here.'   One of the publicans remarked, 'Thank you for bringing Christmas into here.'  Who can tell what the good Lord stirred as we sung carols in an unlikely setting but we were glad it was not just Jesus stones (last post) that were about in the village.

And that was the other thing - I just wrote 'unlikely setting'.  For me, brought up in a teetotal family the local pub was off-limits and publicans got a bad press in the New Testament too.  Now, I recognize that alcohol can be abused and I respect my many teetotal friends.  But I am glad to have shared joining in with so many pubgoers who may not normally be confronted by the Christmas story - even if it was through loud carol singing!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jesus stones

This morning in church we heard about 150 Jesus stones.  A few days ago a group painted stones each with the round face of the baby Jesus peering out from his swaddling clothes. A wide range of artistry was on display!  Certainly, each was unique. Varnished and weather-proofed these were taken by members of the congregation last Sunday and hidden around the village of Histon in all kinds of public spaces.  Then the pastor and others went into the village schools and invited the children to find the hidden Jesus along the paths, greens, by trees (who knows where!)  Apparently playgrounds buzzed with anticipation as children prepared to find Jesus in the village.  They were encouraged to bring any stones they had found to church on Friday when they would be given a book and bag of sweets.....and they could keep their stones too.

Well, today we heard some of the stories.  Children running home saying 'We have found the baby Jesus.'  One parent saying (with approval) 'Finding the baby led to the first theological conversation in our house!'  Over 60 children came to church for their books and sweets with great excitement that they had found Jesus.  You can imagine the congregation's delight when we heard the outcome.

I was left marveling at the imagination of the project (thought up by others but adopted so enthusiastically). What a great idea to 'find the baby Jesus' in the village!  How unforgettably it brought to mind the profound truth that Jesus Christ was born among us. In the translation of Eugene Peterson: 'The Word became flesh and blood, and move into the neighborhood' (John 1: 14). Yes, us
We have several village experiences to come, including carol singing in some of the pubs with brass accompaniment later this week. How good it will be to get excited about finding Jesus in Histon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lament for a tree

Today a silver birch that grew in our neighbour's front garden and stretched over our shared semi-detached houses has come down.  It took fifty years to mature and added great character to our corner of the road.

Our neighbour's (who are good friends) took great pains to explain why they had to take this drastic step. First, they explained how badly pruned it had been over many years resulting, in their words, in a very thick trunk with an ugly dollop of branches on top!  "You've got to admit it is not very attractive!' they said.  Second, its root system was beginning to  damage the pavement.  Third, others agreed that it really would be no loss to the road and the time for action was now!

Part of us is really sad to see it go.  Admittedly it could have been more attractive and the odd way successive generations had hacked at its branches did make for an unnatural tangle of thick stumps mid-air. Yet in its graceless way it did show some beauty. It's sad to hack down living things.  Yet, I remember the Advent warning of John the Baptist that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3: 12).  Sometimes you need to act and the good news is that our neighbours are going to plant a young tree in its place. ( Also, we shall have more light reaching our solar panels!) So, we shall have new young life to watch - and prune more effectively.

I thought of several lessons watching them saw it down in less than a morning.  But I am encouraged by the thought of new life that could be more beautiful still.  And that seems a great lesson as we prepare for the coming of Christ.