Friday, December 10, 2010

The Cosmic Comma

Last week we spent a day with Stuart Murray-Williams looking at Anabaptist history, theology and spirituality and its possible implications for BMS. It was a fascinating day, well presented, easy to engage with and highly relevant.

In the middle of the day came one of those nuggets you remember, something that stops you in your tracks. Reflecting on the centrality of the life of Jesus to Anabaptists, Stuart made the observation that the historic creeds of the church so often ignore the everyday life of Jesus.

For example, we are familiar with the line from the creed “…born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…” to which Stuart added ruefully “the whole of life between birth and death reduced to a comma!”

Pop that in your pipe and smoke it!

The incarnation is about God Immanuel coming to share our life. That life was not simply the preamble to his death, nor just the necessary passage of time that needed to elapse before ‘the hour has come’. Jesus came not just to die but to show us how to live, and God knows we need help knowing how to live!

Maybe our mission, 'should we choose to accept it', is not to mention the death of Jesus in a Christmas sermon this year. When our message is condensed to ‘he came... to die’ we perpetuate the mistake of the cosmic comma.

Instead, enter into the Advent story and help people imagine how Jesus developed in his mother’s womb, how he grew and began to learn carpentry and scripture side-by-side, maybe a playful boy but certainly a thoughtful one. How else would he be able to hold his own with the Rabbis in the temple at the age of twelve years?

Tell people about how later in life he loved to share meals with people, rough diamonds we might say, and how he taught in a way that captivated the masses but alienated those with power.

Find the words to describe the trembling fear of the woman accused of adultery, all of life before her but now screaming with nausea at the vile death that seemed inevitable. Find a way of describing her unbelief at the mercy she found in Jesus.

Take people to the Sermon on the Mount and help them struggle with the command to love your enemies, and turn the other cheek. Do it with the bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.

Talk about weddings in places like Cana. Talk about feasts and festivals, about fried fish and fresh bread, and the biblical importance of hospitality.

Advent is about life. Its about travelling in the winter, having a baby in the frost, wondering about the future, being very poor. It’s about breast-feeding and exhaustion and finding some swaddling clothes for the poor mite in the barn.

Its about infant cries and mother’s sighs and Joseph feeling inadequate and unsure.

Tell people about the comma! Tell them about life.

There’ll be time enough for death.

David Kerrigan


Tim said...

Thank you, David. "I am come that you might have Life in all it's fullness"

Catriona said...

FANTASTIC! Thank you David, spot on. Just what we all need to remember.

Ruth G said...

Thank you - love the "cosmic comma"

Julie said...

As above - thank you,

Angela said...

I take your point. I am glad our children's nativity play this year begins and ends in the carpenter's workshop in Nazareth, stressing that Jesus didn't stay a baby but grew up to be a man etc. [Altho I do admit the very last line mentions his death for us!]

What concerns me about your challenge to 'omit the cross from Christmas sermons' is that many of the people who will come into our building over the next few weeks will genuinely never have made the connection between the cradle and the cross.

Whilst I agree that it is VITAL to help them see the glory of the Incarnation [thanks Chris Duffett, for the brilliant Get In The Picture initiative, which has helped with that] surely it is also CRUCIAL to share the joy of the Resurrection?

If we are talking about commas and punctuation, I think it is wonderful that for a Christian, a sentence of life doesn't end with the full stop of death.

He rose again!
The future is assured...
So how then shall we live?

Blessings, as you prepare all those Christmas sermons!

Andy Goodliff said...

well this is certainly generating comments. In response to Angela I guess the emphasis is to say the beginning of the story and come back to discover what happens ... if we stick to the christmas calendar (rather than just dipping in at christmas and easter), the story of jesus unfolds week by week leading up to holy week and easter ... I would want to invite people to join us on that journey ... to start doing cross and resurrection on christmas day is liking reading the last page of a novel when you've only read the first chapter ...

David K said...

(Back from a long, cold day in Northampton - my respect for William Carey is even higher having experienced 'the Carey Trail' - thanks Margaret and Helen!)

Angela, I think I may sneak a mention in about him dying too, at which point someone may throw a tomato my way! But many of the people who come into our churches over the next few weeks are there to do something akin to 'touching the hem of the garment' of Jesus. They don't know what they want really but they come to experience something deep, emotional, even comforting. They come from the context of lives that consist of relationships, finances, troublesome neighbours, worries about kids and so on.

The message 'he came to die' is largely an answer to a question they are probably not asking. 'He came to show us how to live' is such an attractive and necessary message. And part of that, in due course, is 'he also came to die'.

Right, Elders meeting, then Sunday Sermon Prep!)