Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Life in Christ..

Good morning God,

Thank you for your constant reminders this year that I am YOUR child, and that you call me by name.

I know that I am part of your new creation for you have taught me that I am more than the sum of my DNA, more than the thoughts of my mind or the desires of my heart. I am made in your image and am destined for perfection.

This is not just a 'theological statement' it is my core identity, the ground of my being, and hence the framework for the way I chose to live my life.

This is what Christ has won for me - the freedom to be all that you created me to be - and, in spite of how much it offends or upsets others - I refuse to give it up for what society in its ignorance considers I should be.

In its ignorance, society saw in the incarnation a bastard child of an unmarried mother, a refugee from political oppression who grew to be an unemployed wandering troublemaker with a whip and a loud mouth and precious little respect for authority (religious or otherwise) A common rabble rousing criminal who (for all his supposed popularity) couldn't muster enough support to plead for a stay of execution when he was finally brought before the rulers of the day.

Society has always lacked the vision and coherence to see you God - even when you were nailed up high as a sign for all to see...

But to those who do see.. to those who believe your promise that like Christ they are destined to be more than they seem to be - you give that same power to become your children - children born, not of flesh, but of your will.

And they become a new creation when they claim and take up their God given identity.
They receive from you that fullness of life which cannot be crammed into a 9 to 5 existence or measured by the number of years to live on this earth. And best of all, you do not wait until we die to give to us the knowledge of your gift to us of our new life in Christ - eternal life.
All this I know to be true.

But sadly so few of my friends and family do.
So, on the eve of this new year, and knowing a little of what lies ahead, please God,  hear my prayer for those who mistakenly grieve for me or pity me; for my family and friends and all who unwittingly think that the most important thing to know about me at the moment is how my disease or treatment is progressing..

Gracious God,
Enable those who love me
and those who know me and care for me,
to do so without pity or sorrow,
rejoicing in the fullness of life
that you have given to us all.
Grant them the ability to see all of me,
the life and the heart of me
not just the disease in me,
and help them to know that what matters most
is not how many years we have to live,
but how, with you,
we are able live the years we have
growing in grace and holiness.
Help me to live,
so that my whole life
proclaims the good news
that whoever believes in you,
will not perish,
but have everlasting life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Shhhh... the Baby's sleeping

Good Morning God

Just wanted to say thanks.

It's been an amazing few days.
Thank you for all the hugs and smiles, for gifts and grins.
Thanks too, for these few days of rest when all you ask of me is that I help rock the cradle...
and get used to the fact that you really are in my world in such an amazingly dependent, grace-filled way.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Creator God,
The waiting time is over
The fullness of time has come,
Tonight all of creation sings your praise
Tonight the heavenly host proclaims again
what Angels sang so long ago
Have no fear
For unto you a child is given

A Saviour who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign for you.
Risk taking God,
The waiting time is over
Life is given this night.
We who were lost in darkness
have seen a great light.
For you sent your son, the Word, made flesh
as the light that shines in the darkness
which the darkness can never extinguish.

Emptying himself of all but your love
He was born of Mary
and shared our human nature.
Heralded by angels,
Visited by wise and ordinary folk alike

Jesus your son,
Immanuel, God with us
grew in grace and truth
to proclaim your kingdom of Justice and Peace
For which he was put to death upon the cross.

You raised him from the dead
You refused to allow the light of hope and love to die
And by that light
You empower your people
Sending them your Holy Spirit
And calling them to be a Holy people
A Christmas people
to join the choir of your heavenly host
and sing:
Glory to God in the Highest Heaven
And on earth Peace.

Holy Holy Holy Lord
God of power and might
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the Highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the Highest

Gracious, Holy, Redeeming God,
We praise you for Jesus
Your Word of Love
who, on the night in which he was betrayed
took bread, and gave you thanks.
He broke the bread and shared it amongst the disciples saying
'Take this and eat it
This is my body given for you
Do this to remember me'
'Keep my commandments,'
'Love one another as I have loved you.'

After supper, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks
And then gave it to them saying
'This is my blood of the new covenant
It will be poured out for you and for all people
For the forgiveness of sins
Do this, whenever you drink it
In remembrance of me.'
Christ is born
The Word is spoken
God is With us

And so God of love
we remember the life that you gave to us
and all that Christ has done for us
Send down your Holy Spirit
that these gifts of bread and wine
may be for us
the Body and Blood of Christ,
the Myrrh and Gold that our Hearts and souls
need to transform the frankinsense of our praise
that we may be Holy as Christ is Holy.

This we ask through the same Lord Jesus Christ
Your ever living light and Word

Through him, with him and in him
In the unity of the Holy Spirit
all glory and honour be given to you
Almighty father
Throughout all ages

Christ is the Light of the World
Christ is the bread of life

The Word has spoken
The Word is Love
God be with us as light and life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dispersed Church

Good morning God,
A great three days in store worshipping with your dispersed people and being reminded of the truth of your words about the blind who see and the lame who walk..
You repeatedly show me how easy it is to perform such miracles - all it seems to take is the determination to not allow your Children to be forgotten or made outcasts in the first place!

So I'm off to buy baskets of Christmas Chrysanthemums and luxury shortbread to take with me as I visit your favourite sons and daughters.. A small gift  to work miracles with. It will help us all to see that those we visit  really are loved and blessed by you and me, and by the wider Church family. We will walk down memory lane together, share news of the Church, laugh at the past, talk gently but joyously of those we love but see no longer, and look forward to the future.
It's no wonder I love this time.. its full of your grace and love,  and your miraculous ability to weave prayer out of presence and bread  and wine out of mince pies and tea.

Bless you God..

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An invitation..

Good morning God,
I've been caught out again by how little quality time I seem to be spending with you at the moment.
I have had to remind myself several times this week to take time out to just talk to you about the things that I am seeing, doing or preparing. Sorry, being 'too busy'  is just another way of taking you for granted, and I promised myself I wouldn't do that. I don't want to forget it is YOU that I am so busy dressing up in tinsel, pushing into oranges, or delivering with Christmas Chrysanthemums.

It's so easy to get sucked in and allow the religious bits and the business of Christmas substitute for our personal time together. But this means that I could miss the sound of your voice as you laugh with me, and run the risk of not even recognising that it is your hand that has touched my heart, lifted it and filled me with joy... and that's not good enough - you would never do that to me.

So thank you for the prompting, and allow me to issue you with a personal invitation to a very special early morning communion tomorrow morning. Before the crowds arrive for all age worship, and before the stewards bustle about the place sorting out the sound system, hymn boards, advent candles, Christmas trees and whatever else.. I have prepared a quiet place and time to be still and know that You are GOD.

It's selfish of me I know, (given everything else that is going on) but I really do need you to come, you see, it would mean nothing if you were not there.

I hope to use the time to remember those who  need at-one-ment; those who need to shed tears before they can face the other members of their family over Christmas dinner; those who need strength and consolation and who need to hear your heavenly host saying 'do not fear'. Those who need to remember who you are in the midst of Christmas, and what you invite us to do...

Thank you God,
For your prevenient grace,

As you know there wont be many of us,
just a small gathering..
two or three maybe..

but - I'm so glad you have invited me to spend time with you
To come and feast at your table, before setting my own

And for somehow making sure that I would not be too busy to cry -  come Lord Jesus.

Love you God.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pleasing, pandering and placating

Ok God,
I admit it,
I like to be liked, and I don't like it when what I say or do upsets people. I hate the sense of failure, the endless rehearsals of conversations that have already happened and the echoes of words that weren't said going round and round in my head. I hate the sense of needing to put right what I didn't think I had done wrong in the first place, the restless pacing and the troubled sleep..
There is absolutely nothing to like about being at the root of some one's irritation.. there is nothing pleasing or satisfying about causing frustration, distress, anguish, or anger - either deliberately or inadvertently.

Even if it is sometimes gospel work.

When you sent me to minister you didn't give me an excuse to do all that I can to please, pander to or placate someone by holding silence or worse - by not telling the truth or by lying. You sent me to find a way to speak the truth in love - and demanded that I love the truth enough to be prepared to speak it regardless of the cost.

But its hard to love a truth that few seem to value and even fewer are prepared to commit to.
Who wants truth at Christmas? All we want is snow, Santa, mince-pies, carols, candles and plenty of peace on earth..

We don't want to know about people dying because of our greed, expenditure and thoughtlessness. We don't want to know that most families will throw away more food in three days over Christmas than some families have to eat all month... leave alone the truth that we could change all that - if we really wanted to..

But just imagine what a gift it could be to the world if every Christian chose to give life instead of aftershave or bubble-bath for Christmas. If everyone of us gave the money we had intended to spend on presents to someone who would spend it on staying alive, realising their potential, growing in grace, and building a world fit for life...

What could happen if instead of pandering to the consumerist god, instead of trying to please everyone by getting family and friends what THEY want and placating our sense of unease by giving a token sum to charity over Christmas, every Christian did what YOU expect of us.. just once?

The truth is - at Christmas we celebrate the fact that You, who could have had everything, chose instead to empty yourself of everything - so that we might have life...

And you call us to do the same..

Its not popular, and doing it will upset many a soul expecting an ipod, or a computer, or a bike or a digi-box or a sat-nav or a box of chocolates.. especially if we have the courage to tell them why.. but just once maybe...

It might make this Christmas more of a celebration of what YOU want!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And there's more..

Good Morning God,

There's a peculiar form of religious linguistic schizophrenia in a significant number of your ministers these days, including me - and it's all to do with holding the tension between making the gospel accessible for all, and challenging people to accept the challenge of discipleship.

Starting where people are often seems to entail 'dumbing down' the language of faith - but the reason that there is a language of faith is precisely because some things need to be said differently to even stand a chance of being understood: the great mystery at the heart of the Eucharist for example, needs the proclamation
'Holy Holy Holy Lord', God of power and might..
'God you are bloody Amazing!' - doesn't always manage to communicate the awe, wonder and otherness of that moment.

Likewise, 'my mate Jesus' , the guy we talk about in the pub, or at mother and toddlers group etc, can sometimes seem a little too nice to make powerful, life-changing, world shaping demands of us..

Liturgy has its place - especially at Christmas. Its important that we do somehow communicate the challenge of faith, not just the choice of faith, because to do less is to strip the gospel of any real import. Being a Christian ends up being reduced to something similar to being a supporter of a particular football team, or pop idol, or strictly come dancing contestant without the challenge of discipleship.

There's more - so much more to being a Christian than knowing ABOUT you God. Christ didn't come just to give us a religious holiday or a feel good factor. Our Christmas language can remind us that Christ came to give us so much more..

In Christ you invite us to encounter the truth of what we are not yet - but are invited to become, and to know that there is an 'other' who is 'holy' and different from us who, even in our wildest imaginings we could not consider ourselves to be the equal of.. but who nonetheless draws us close.

So we religious language schizophrenics spend our Christmases telling our stories with knitted nativities, or similar props, all the while we are really waiting and praying for the moment of grace when your Spirit can break in and speak. We conduct our candlelit carol services, and hold our breath in anticipation of the Holy speaking through words and music..
Finally, when we know our words are too simplistic and chatty, you nudge us to reach for the religious liturgical silence which speaks most powerfully albeit religiously into the timeless spark of grace, when - as Wesley put it - you were 'contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man'

When that silence has spoken, stilled the chaos and birthed possibility; and whilst the echo of it still lingers in the memory, you give us a moment to make the invitation: -

there's more...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Incarnational Christmas ministry

Good morning God,

I do enjoy the greater freedom and liberty I have at this time of the year to be me - to be a minister of the Church - a bearer of good news, a 'Christmas' person and to practice incarnational ministry.

In these last two weeks before Christmas I feel almost as expected as Santa Claus.. well in some quarters anyway.

People who seldom darken the door of the Church but who make great use of our cafe seem to feel the impulse to 'just pop in' and 'light a candle or two' or even 'say a prayer for the old folks'.. And conversation is so much easier and naturally focused...
Jesus is the reason for the season after all...

As always, the real task is finding a way to help your people make use of this gift of your prevenient grace so that the warmed hearts full of Christmas cheer can be used to open the door to lifelong relationships with you and to the great adventure of discipleship.

Most people are incredibly bad at seizing the opportunities you provide us with to talk about you and the difference you can make to life. It's almost as though somewhere along the line we were all brainwashed into believing that talking about you means blurting out all we know about you, from cradle to cross - all before the soul has finished their tea!

But at Christmas it's different - Christmas provides everyone with an excuse for small talk about being away from home at Christmas
about babies and refugees,
about homelessness and loneliness,
about wise-men and daft gifts,
about angels and messages,
about being looked after - and seeing for yourself.
about the bitter cold and hope for the future,
about longing and fear
about life
about the WHY of it all
the search for what's it all FOR?

And it's never easier than at Christmas to strike up a conversation that really could change a life. People are far more receptive to strangers due to the 'Christmas spirit'.
So this is the time to go wherever your people are and be present in the midst of them, wherever.. in the pub, in the gym, at the school gate, in the supermarket, on the high street on the station platform, on the park bench - and of course in the Cafes.. opening up conversations, being the story teller, the gospel bearer, the fool for Christ..

This is the time for riding the bus and giving away free smiles,
for singing all the words to the piped carols in the shops
and for being the quiet present that you provide, the shoulder to cry on, the listening ear, the light shines in the darkness wherever its needed.

This is people time,
Story time
Gift time
Your time.

And all because - in the fullness of time - you came yourself and gave us the never-ending story to tell.

And I love it - thank you God.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pseudocide ( or doing a Reggie)

Good morning God,

I've been thinking about the similarity between committing pseudocide (or as we Brits tend to say - doing a Reggie Perrin) and responding to your calling to discipleship.

For some people there is something distinctly alluring about walking away from life as it is, to seek the life that they always knew they should have had.. but somehow didn't get.. The mindless mediocrity of modern living is often such a stark contrast to the impulses engendered by the imagination of the soul that it is no wonder that people long for the difference, for the possibility to turn flights of fancy into reality. The awareness of being trapped in a life that is not unpleasant or distasteful merely boring and uneventful is part of the awakening of the soul.

This then is for many the real hunger and motivation behind the search for faith which we misguidedly refer to as a 'God shaped Hole' or the yearning for spirituality.
What many people are yearning for is personal fulfillment, creativity, meaning and opportunity.. a chance to be the person that deep down they believe they really are. They want a chance to break free from the mundane and BE..
And so we offer them....?


Another regular routine to slip into and another familiar face to wear.

Whereas - if we offered them YOU and the challenge of discipleship, they really could be transformed because you invite your disciples to live very different, imaginative, and creative lives.

You call your people to live dangerously, to take risks for the sake of your kingdom, to take part in a bigger enterprise where they are not just a cog in a wheel but an essential member of the team you have hand picked to assist in the evolution of all creation. You offer them a lousy salary (sorry God but you do) but a brilliantly unpredictable life - oh yes.. and a new identity too..

Becoming a disciple is your invitation to take up a new life - to walk away from everything that enslaves, demeans, and stifles the human soul.. without having to leave your pants in the sand!
You invite people to step out onto the waves, rather than into the sea.. to dare to be different.. rather than politely respectable.. for the sake of the hungry, the homeless, and those who believe they are truly hopeless.

So.. how much do we really want to leave our old lives behind?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Five things I love about Methodism

Good morning God,

Micky, Dave and Richard, are all pointing to The Road to Elder-ado: 5 things I love about Methodists. In her post however, Micky also raises the challenge: So - go on then, why do you love Methodism?

So here's my response:

Five things I love about Methodism

1. Evangelical Arminianism
The amazing news that you are not the God of the elect few but are the God of the poor and the God of the ruling classes, chattering classes, (even Methodist classes) needs to be shouted out in a country where Church is still equated primarily with the ageing white (respectable) middle-classes. Such news just has to be shared, how can we keep it to ourselves? Wherever this truth is understood it leads to passionate preaching - in some peculiar places, throughout the whole world: outdoors, indoors, in graveyards, on hilltops, in tent meetings, cafes, basements, market-squares, gyms, at the sea side, in city halls, and on top of plinths! Oh.. and sometimes in Churches too!

2. Social Holiness

Without social justice the church simply makes a liar and a hypocrite of you and your love of us God. You cared enough about us to get down and get mucky – how can we do less and still claim to be your disciples? Methodists don’t believe salvation can be earned by good deeds, but neither do they believe that someone can be saved and not respond to your call to help end the injustice, ignorance, hatred and fear that still enslaves and demeans your creation.

3. Growth in grace

Salvation is just the start of it..
There’s more… !
No matter how ‘good’ we think we are,
No matter how ‘good’ our knowledge of Scripture or theology is
no matter how ‘good’ our relationship with you is God,
The more we respond to your grace – the more grace abounds
It just keeps getting better…
Sanctification – here we come…

4. Worship
Extempore prayer, high quality preaching, and the best hymns in Christendom – what’s not to like?

5. Connexionalism

Not to be confused with what is termed ‘The Connexion’ and never to be reduced to a team, Connexionalism is the Methodist way of being Church.
Using the circuit as the centre for local mission and the Conference as the centre for national Conferring, Connexionalism (spelt with an X to represent the Cross at the centre of our belonging) allows us to express our equality before you and our assent to our common calling: it promotes and resources our mission and diversity by actively encouraging our non-conformity! It's quirky and problematic at times, its a disabled body rather than a perfect magisterium, but that's what makes it work so well - it keeps us dependent on your grace for our survival rather than on a bishop or two, (or even a whole house of them). It is how you have bound us together in love.

Ok.. I KNOW this might read like an ideal image of Methodism. It's true that it varies from place to place.. but the things that I love are still recognisable in more places than people might think. From the work I do in ministerial training for example, I know that there is a real hunger in those you are calling to minister to be allowed to BE Methodist. It's also possible to detect an increasing longing amongst the membership for Methodists to rediscover their own identity and practices.

Maybe you haven't finished with us yet God.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Go and sin no more - Christian responses to Climate Change

Good morning God,
I realise this might seem strange, but do you mind if we talk about sin - because I'm beginning to get really confused as to what it is, and what it isn't. I thought I had it sussed - My Wesleyan heritage teaches me that sin is anything that I knowingly do which causes a breakdown in our relationship. I'm Wesleyan through and through and know that having accepted your gracious gift of salvation, I cannot sin in ignorance (to even suggest that I can makes a monster and a liar out of you. )

So I'm struggling with all this corporate Christian politically correct Copenhagen climate change confession nonsense which has preachers and pastors praying for forgiveness for what our ancestors, not so long ago, gave you their heartfelt thanks for. I cannot believe that you deem human progress and evolution to be a sin. So I don't need to ask forgiveness for the ingenuity, drive and creativity behind the industrial revolution or the technological/digital revolution which has followed it.

Am I appalled at pollution YES, am I disgusted at wanton exploitation - YES, am I ashamed by the greed which consumes the planet YES, YES, YES - and these are things that I can and do repent of.. especially my part in them..

But I cannot bring myself to even loosen the sandals of the mea-culpa Corporate Christian let alone publicly repent of my personal carbon footprint at the moment because I am so appalled at the deliberate manipulation of the gospel by those who think we know no better.

What on earth is going on? Does anyone really believe that if Christians can be persuaded that the things that cause climate change are their fault and are wicked sins that they will stop doing them? How effective has that policy been at stopping adultery!

Don't misunderstand me God, I KNOW that we need to address our greed, indifference and consumerism. I'm not objecting to wanting to get Christians engaged with the need to change hearts and minds so that we can see the consequences to our neighbour of our reckless use of the world's scarce resources and truly repent of our failure to keep your commandments.
What I object to is the idea that the only way we seem to have of doing this, is through guilt and blame and the imposition of a sack of sin.

Can those who speak for the faith find nothing in the gospel of joy, hope, incarnation and resurrection to bring to bear on these issues - must they repeatedly reduce Christianity to the doctrine of sin instead of your gift of salvation?

There was, for example, very little hope in the report 'Hope in God's future' - just loads of guilt and sin offered in the assumption that:

' It may be that desire for this newness of life, for lives washed clean of the stain of our sin (Ps. 51), is the strongest motivation for the change of life to which God calls us.'

How could a Methodist or Wesleyan buy into such a negative presentation of the gospel and such a sad denial of your GRACE?
2000 years after Christ and we are still in the business of trying to make people feel guilty in order to shame or frighten them into heaven: Didn't we learn anything from the old hell-fire and damnation days?

Love, not guilt or shame or fear, love is the fulfilling of the law.
It will be when I have truly learned to love my neighbour, not when I am scared of and confess some priestly imposed sin, that the world will be changed for the better.

So about this sin business God, do you mind if I don't - I've been trying to give it up.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christian Perfection and The Not Dead Yet Club

Good morning God - thank you for a great night's sleep and for the energy of this morning. You've given me another day to think about my membership of the 'not dead yet club' and why its so important to me.

Since I made the choice to be a member rather than an adherent, and committed myself to playing a full part in my life, I must confess, I have grown in grace in ways I really would not have imagined. It has provided me with new insights into prayer, given me an awareness of the power of the sacrament to truly resurrect, of the importance of ministry to be 'truth bearing' rather than just 'soothe saying' - and it has totally transformed my reading of scripture.
But above all this - my membership has made me realise just how much I really love your people.

'I give you a new commandment - that you are to love one another, just as I have loved you.'

This deep gift of grace - the power to love - fills me and overflows into every aspect of life is almost impossible to describe. I recognise it best as that part of you which truly is in me. It is the transformational, resurrectional power that reaches out to hold and embrace, to release hope and quell fear, to nurture into that fullness of life where there is no answer to be afraid of, only another question we are invited to explore. It is the part that commands and compels me to hold out the hope of Christian perfection and theosis as a reality not a doctrine.

This, you are teaching me, is what it means to be incarnate - to be 'God with us' - to love so completely that we do not fight shy of being all that we are and all we are destined to be.

You can't be a member of the not dead yet club without wanting and encouraging others to join, because belonging makes you so - well - alive! It makes you rejoice and share the good news that the purpose of life is not to live as long as you can, but as fully as you can, with one aim - Christian perfection. 'Not only are you not dead yet - but God has not finished with you yet- for you are not yet perfect. And that purpose alone transcends the transition we call death and continues into the life everlasting.

My membership of the not dead yet club (aka the Church) has been renewed and transformed this year by so many things. Many will think that the greatest influence has been the knowledge of my own mortality - but in truth - the greatest inspiration has been the need to find forgiveness and understanding for those who react so badly to the news that I have cancer. I needed an answer for those whose fear of sickness, death, disability and dying, (or any one of the many 'problems' that diseases can cause) persuades them that I can't possibly live life fully now, but must be forced to live it decreasingly, in miniature, in hushed tones, breathy prayers and reduced responsibilities until I die. I needed to find a way to reduce my anger at such people, and hopefully persuade them to allow me to live!

This then has been your answer to my prayer for greater grace when all I have wanted to do is scream at people 'I'm not dead yet' . You have helped me to love them, and find a way of pointing out their fearful gospel of limitations. You have helped me to love them, and at the same time to grieve for their lack of confidence in your creation and grace. You have given me enough love for them to be able to leave them if needs be in order that I might live.

You have taught me how to proclaim - not scream - my membership and ministry in the not dead yet club.

I am not dead yet - I am being perfected in grace
You have not finished with me yet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent and the NHS

Good afternoon God,
The BBC has just reported that:
The NHS in England must get better at diagnosing cancers at an earlier stage if it is to continue to improve survival rates, the cancer tsar says.

This report has deeply disturbed my Advent preparations with the fear that it has the potential to evoke for in two days time I will have a biopsy which should enable the doctors to finally diagnose what sort of cancer I have. So far they have guessed at four different sorts, but the truth is - they just don't know - yet. Everything they have done so far has been inconclusive - leading to the last statement that I am 'mysterious and interesting but nonetheless stable!' (Not a bad description of me some would say!)

Meanwhile, I feel fine, I am enjoying excellent health, I have energy, enthusiasm and hope...
So do I want to know the results of the biopsy? And do I want to know the results before Christmas or after?

There is nothing like the threat of the knowledge of death to focus us on the meaning and value of life..

Which is why, I realise now, Advent is so important to me - it is a time when life and death are woven together, when hope and salvation are offered in the face of defeat and despair - comfort, comfort my people...

Unfortunately, Advent is all too often presented as a warning to the Church to get better at early sin diagnosis and improve the chances of survival for your people. When seen this way, the Advent message has the same potential to generate fear as the report on cancer does.

It is believed that this approach to Advent offers the Church a time to focus on the need for repentance and on your wrath and judgement.. the 'Or Else' of Advent - Repent or Die! After all, our survival (or if you prefer, salvation), is,we have been taught, ultimately dependent on our finding and curing the root cause of sin.. and, God, all too many remain totally unaware or just unconcerned about their state of grace before you..

Should we tell them before Christmas - or after?
Will it ruin their Christmas to know?

But this is NOT what advent is for and God forbid that I should ever play into the fear and trembling that denies your gift of grace!

So help me, this Advent, God, to tell people before it's too late, before they walk away from the truth they are too afraid to risk hearing that the coming of Christ is a message of hope not fear, of new life, not death. Help me to sing out with the heavenly host to all those worried about their sin, or the state of their souls - 'Have No fear' for Advent is your promise of love and a sign of your commitment to our health and wholeness, now and always..