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Showing posts from December, 2014


Happy Christmas! Almighty God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin: Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (The Collect for Christmas Day) This is what the Breaking of Bread would have sounded like on Christmas morning in about 1620 (in Germany). And don't be put off by the word 'mass' - Lutherans still used the word, but for a Protestant service of the Lord's Supper, so this is a thoroughly Protestant mass. (And here's a Prezi with lots of information about Praetorius' mass for Christmas morning, including English translations of the texts.)

Christmas Eve

Saviour of the nations, come, Show yourself, the virgin’s son. Marvel heaven, wonder earth, That our God chose such a birth. Not by human power or seed Did the woman's womb conceive; Only by the Spirit's breath Was the Word of God made flesh. Mary then was found with child, Still a virgin, chaste and mild. God had favored her with grace To receive the Prince of Peace. Christ laid down his majesty, Passed through dark Gethsemane. Though he left his Father's home, Christ now sits on God's own throne. Christ in glory intercede For your creatures’ suffering need. Let your resurrecting power Soon complete the victory hour. Praise to you, O Lord, we sing. Praise to Christ, our newborn King! With the Father, Spirit, one, Let your lasting kingdom come. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to post a - perhaps less familiar - hymn of the Incarnation on Christmas Eve. So this year's comes from one of the first hymnwriters of the western church,

The Incarnation: One of the Trinity Suffered in the Flesh

The latest song we’ve introduced in church is our Communion hymn for December. I wanted us to sing it because of how it links Bethlehem and Calvary. The body which we now take is the body which was ‘laid in manger yonder’ and which was ‘broken for our sake’ . The Cross isn’t just a free-floating event which somehow brings us salvation, but rather it’s the Cross and Incarnation together; the Cross only saves because it is the Cross of the Incarnate God. And so we sing: Bethlehem’s Incarnation, Calvary’s bitter Cross, Wrought for us salvation by Your pain and loss. The second verse of the hymn makes clear something that’s found in so many of the great hymns of Christmas – that it was God the Son who died on the Cross: Prince of Glory gracing heav’n ere time began, Now for us embracing death as Son of Man. Or, in the famous words of the Scythian Monks ‘one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh.’ This statement of the Scythian Monks (who, for some reason, I always imagine as pi

Have Yourself a Gnostic Little Christmas

Have yourself a gnostic little Christmas Let your heart be light The crying, blood and dirt we will keep out of sight. Have yourself a gnostic little Christmas Feel wor-ship-ful today For when we do our troubles they feel miles away. Think not of sin as in olden days, Or the Cross we preached of yore. Wor-ship-ful feelings so dear to us Gather near to us once more. Turn your eyes away from bread and water, From God-in-flesh now; Raise your hands instead into the Spirit's joy. And have yourself a gnostic little Christmas now! (Just in case it isn't as obvious as I think, this is complete satire. For some related thoughts, see here .)

The Incarnation: Double Birth

One of my favourite Christmas hymns is Charles Wesley’s Glory Be to God on High . It’s not the most popular or familiar of songs for Christmastide, but, like Wesley’s other great hymn of the Incarnation – Hark the Herald Angels Sing – it’s full of great theology. One of the reasons I’ve always liked this hymn is that it uses language that’s almost shocking to us and so forces us to really think about the meaning of the Incarnation: ‘Our being’s Source begins to be, and God Himself is born.’ How can being’s Source begin to be? How can the eternal God be born? Yet that is the very truth of what has happened in the Incarnation of Christ. The One who is before all things, and through whom and for whom all things are created, began to be as a tiny baby in Mary’s womb. God Himself, the Eternal Son and Word of God the Father, was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Wesley’s startling language emphasises two glorious truths to us: the humility of God the Son in coming as a tiny baby, and the g

Bad Theology Damages People (But Jesus Is Good News) Redux

Okay, I've had to start writing this post over again. I was getting too riled up, and really don't want to rant. So, in lieu thereof, here's a post from almost exactly two years ago provoked by the almost exactly the same thing. But first, a quick rebuttle (sans rant) of what's got me so riled up this time Are God's Favour and Blessing on the Other Side of Our Obedience? Certainly Not!! God's blessing is found in Jesus: the Father 'has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ' (Eph. 1:3). And in Ephesians 1 that blessing which is ours in Christ (and in Christ alone) is linked to us being chosen 'in Him before the foundation of the world' (Eph. 1:4), so long before we ever did anything to obey! Paul makes it very clear in Ephesians 1 that our blessing in Christ rests solely upon the grace of God which we receive in Christ and Him crucified. God's favour and blessing are ours because of the shed blood of J

The Incarnation: 'He became what we are so that we might become what He is'

Why did the Word become flesh and dwell among us? What was the reason for the Incarnation? Doesn’t the Bible say that it was to destroy all the works of the evil one? (1 John 3:8). Yes. But that’s not all the Bible has to say on the matter. Jesus shared our flesh and blood not only to ‘destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil’, but also ‘release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’ (Hebrews 2:14-15). As the Nicene Creed puts it, it was ‘for us … and for our salvation’ that He ‘came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.’ But what does this salvation for us, for which Christ became incarnate, look like? Galatians 4:4-5 notes two parts to it: ‘God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.’ Redemption and Adoption. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why the Incarnation happened. For u

The Incarnation: ‘The Unassumed is the Unhealed’

‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ (John 1:14) Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. This is the wondrous truth of the Incarnation. And, seeing as it’s December, I have a very good excuse to write about it a few times. So, what I want to do is this: I want to look at the truth of the Incarnation through some really important sayings from the early church that so well sum up biblical truth that they’re still being handed down today. The technical word for these is theologoumena. A theologoumenon is a short, piffy theological statement that sums up an important point of doctrine in a memorable sentence. They’re sort of like the Tweets that have kept on being retweeted for centuries upon centuries. (Actually, techinically, at least one of the expressions we’ll look at is dogma and not theologoumena, but that’s a technical distinction for another place.) So today, for our first handed-down saying from the ancient church, let’s meet Gregory Nazianzus, who said:

Singing Scripture for Advent (Plus one for the Epiphany!)

About 4 or 5 months ago we started making a conscious effort to sing Scripture every week in church. It's not that we never sang Scripture; it's just that we treated it like any other song and so we might go weeks (or months) without singing the Bible. So, since the summer, we have a particular moment in the service where we sing a Psalm. For Advent, however, we're doing things a bit differently. Rather than a Psalm, we're going to sing a Paraphrase from elsewhere in Scripture. (We're singing Paraphrases because they're in Common Metre and so we can sing them all to a tune we know.) So each week we'll be singing a few verses to Winchester (the tune of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night , which is simply the paraphrase of Luke 2:8-15 (which we'll sing the Sunday before Christmas). On Sunday I was teaching the children about the annunciation and Mary's visit to Elizabeth, so we sang the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). To be fair, it was a