Friday, December 21, 2012

Some thoughts on Christmas...

I have been somewhat silent the last few weeks. Not as regular with my posts. Mostly because the lead up to Christmas is always a somewhat painful time for me.  Being an immigrant to Australia, the only family I have here is the family that my wife and I created. No brothers or sisters or cousins of my generation. No parents or aunts and uncles. The Christmas season brings that into sharp focus as I hear of other families planning their multi-generational get-together. Meanwhile, our own children are growing away from us and leading their own lives, so we don't see much of them at Christmas, if at all, as they have commitments with partners and partner's families as well.  Also, it doesn't help that coming from the northern hemisphere where the approach to Christmas is a time of cold dark nights and short grey days, I am confronted with blue skies, sunshine, warm temperatures, long days and often warm nights.  Consequently, there is much about the season that is confusing. And what isn't confusing, is about grief and loss. So Christmas is a time of year that I sort of creep up to, carefully taking every step to avoid any additional hardship or pain, full of trepidation as to how it will all shake out with myself and family and memories and emotions.  The only constant is the story of Christ's birth and that is how it should be. In this story I find my life, for as Luke and Matthew tell it, here is a story of confusion, misunderstanding, pain, sorrow, grief, loss and the unknown. But here also is the sure promise and hope, that despite all that is happening, God is present and this is true for me as well. That is why for me, the reading of the Christmas story is so vitally important. In it are words of comfort and hope and encouragement...if only I care to hear it told.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Paul and the "Get Ready Man"

Philippians 1:3-11 is an interesting text on two levels for me.  One it reveals the depth of Paul's relationship with the church at Philippi. The second is that within that relationship Paul is pointing to the Day of the Lord as a prime motivation for their continuing growth in love through faith in Jesus.

Now as to the "Get Ready Man"...well...Paul's pointing ahead to that Day of the Lord is just such a call. The actions and attitudes of the current day are to be seen in light of the coming Day. For Paul there was no separation between the 'now' and the 'not yet'.  I experienced this myself once while riding a tram into the centre of Melbourne. A gentleman boarded the tram and immediately began to sing out in a loud voice, "This tram is going to Jesus!" He kept this up through the next 4 stops until the tram arrived at Bourke Street, when he then announced, "Everyone off who is going to Jesus!" Once those wanting this particular stop left the tram and the tram itself resumed its journey, the man then announced, "Everyone still on this tram is going to hell!" He continued this refrain until we reached the end of the line, at which point he said quite clearly, "Hell at last!" It was a unique experience of the present and the future day of judgement all on a tram journey.  The American author, James Thurber, had a similar experience. I quote from his book 'My Life and Hard Times', the story entitled "The Car We had to Push":

The only car I was really interested in was one that the Get-Ready Man, as we called him, rode around town in: a big Red Devil with a door in the back. The Get-Ready Man was a lank unkempt elderly gentleman with wild eyes and a deep voice who used to go about shouting at people through a megaphone to prepare for the end of the world. "Get ready! Get read-y!" he would bellow. "The Worllld is coming to an End!" His startling exhortations would come up, like summer thunder, at the most unexpected times and in the most surprising places. I remember once during MantelPs pro-duction of "King Lear" at the Colonial Theatre, that the Get-Ready Man added his bawlings to the squealing of Edgar and the ranting of the King and the mouthing of the Fool, rising from somewhere in the balcony to join in. The theatre was in absolute darkness and there were rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning offstage. Neither father nor I, who were there, ever completely got over the scene, which went some-thing like this:
Edgar: Tom's a-cold.—O, do de, do de, do de!—
Bless thee from whirlwinds, star-blasting, and taking . . .
the foul fiend vexes!
(Thunder off.) Lear: What! Have his daughters brought him to this
Get-Ready Man: Get ready! Get ready!
Edgar: Pillicock sat on Pillicock-hill:—Halloo, halloo, loo, loo! (Lightning flashes.)
Get-Ready Man: The Worllld is com-ing to an End!
Fool: This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen!
Edgar: Take heed o' the foul fiend: obey thy paren-----
Get-Ready Man: Get Rea-dyl
Edgar: Tom's a-cold
Get-Ready Man: The Worr-uld is coming to an

They found him finally, and ejected him, still shouting. The Theatre, in our time, has known few such moments.

From ‘My life and hard times’ by James Thurber...

The story “The car we had to push”

What I found interesting in both these experiences, my own and Mr Thurber's, was this connection between the 'now' and the 'not yet'. Now in both cases there is the temptation to dismiss the individuals as people with some sort of problem, I believe they are a good reminder of that somewhat hidden connection and in many ways simply echo the message that Paul shares with the people of Philippi.