Peter Holloway Posts

I blame Charles Dickens. Everywhere I look, in the TV adverts, the Christmas themed films, the secret Santas and the planned parties, there’s a huge determination along with Scrooge to ‘know how to keep Christmas well’. We’re convinced that if we can by sheer force of will enjoy the festive period, we will have captured that spirit of A Christmas Carol. Except, that’s not what Christmas is about. We can’t just whip up that feeling, and we can’t judge our Christmas success by how well we do it or feel it.

So what is it about? It’s about something that we can’t whip up, something that has nothing to do with how hard we wish for it or how much we give ourselves to the season; it’s about something that is solid, substantial, and beyond our capability to produce. It’s about such a costly, exorbitant gift that we could never gain it ourselves. It’s not a trinket: the bath bomb, or the after shave, or the swapped gift cards for shops we never shop in, it’s sublime, not ridiculous.

Travel back in time some 2000 years or so to a dark middle eastern night. The shepherds are dozing, as are the sheep. To these very ordinary men came a most extraordinary announcement.

Luke, the Gospel writer puts it like this:

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The announcement was so magnificent that the whole heavenly host burst into time and space before the befuddled shepherds. Now they were wide awake.

Those 2000 years ago God, the Creator of the universe announced that he was sending his Son into his own creation. This announcement wasn’t whipped up emotion; it was stunning in its scope, incredible in its daring, astounding in its portent – here was God reaching out to all people to offer a Saviour, the promised One who would be God with us.

I can think of no other announcement that even begins to come close to this one in terms of its import for humanity not just now but for eternity to come.

So, shake off the trinkets of Dickensian Christmas past. Read Luke’s story in Luke chapter 2, reverently, and seriously, and ask God to impress on you the joy that filled the angels all those years ago. Because that Saviour is Jesus Christ, and he did save us from our sins, and he does offer eternal and abundant life in him. Look big this Christmas and wonder together at the incarnation, God truly with us. Surely that will fill your Christmas with true wonder and joy, and lift your hearts to worship the lovely One, who has loved us, does love us and will love us: Immanuel, God with us.

General

There is a house, My father’s house,
Where love eternal reigns
And ruined sinners who believe
Will there with Christ remain

This ruined world can never give
The peace and hope we crave
But those who trust in Jesus Christ
Gain hope beyond the grave

For all have sinned and fallen short
Of the life that God demands
Our sin and shame are plain to see
Defenceless now we stand

But Jesus died to take our sin
And bear it in our place
He rose victorious from the grave
His sacrifice, our grace

Our hope is in our Father’s house
Through Jesus Christ God’s Son
To trust his death and life for us
Forgiveness in him won

I will prepare a place for you
Our Lord and Saviour said
A house of love, forgiveness too
A life beyond the dead

The hopeless find their hope in him
Believers will endure
His love will keep us evermore
Eternally secure

There is a house, My father’s house,
Where love eternal reigns
And ruined sinners who believe
Will there with Christ remain

© Peter Holloway 2023

Songs

“And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” –

1 Kings 8:10,11

Once the temple was built the ark was brought to rest in the Most Holy Place. The ark represented not just the covenant between God and his people, but was also the representative location of his abiding presence at the heart of the people of God, centred in the most holy part of the temple. When the ark was placed in the Most Holy Place, God’s presence rested there too. As the priests left the Most Holy Place a cloud spread out through the entire temple – we are told that the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. The cloud represented God’s glory to his people.

And in the face of this glory the priests could no longer stand. Normal service was brought to a halt by the manifest presence of God Almighty. His presence consumed the sanctuary.

Oh that our rigmaroles & rituals would be brought to a halt by the felt presence of the living God among us, among his Church, his dwelling place. Oh that we would be brought to a standstill by his moving among us. Lord, fill our house, fill our lives. Glorify your own glorious self in your Church until we cannot but stop and adore you.

General

Matthew 10:34-38

Where’s our peace? Where and how do we feel that bedrock of assurance? Every time I watch TV, or look at social media there is an avalanche of messages persuading me that I can have peace, satisfaction, a sense of well being. But it’s all based on ephemera – there’s no substance, no endurance.

In the brief monologue of Matthew 10:34-38 Jesus points out the radical disconnect between living in the world and following Jesus. The disconnect is in fact between Jesus and anything else in this world. Jesus couches it in this way: “Don’t think I’ve come to bring peace on earth, I’ve not come to do that, but to bring a sword.” That’s drawing a line in the sand. Following Jesus will bring peace, peace on the inside; but it will provoke conflict in every other realm: family relationships, work relationships, neighbours, society in general, and society in the specifics of the norms to which it would hold us, and which we must refuse. Living for Jesus means more than just not fitting in, it’s one against the other, to the end of the world.

Jesus draws another line in the sand when he says in effect that anyone who puts anything ahead of him in their lives is not worthy of him. Every creature comfort that we demand for ourselves, every pander to the values and ways of living of this world that we hold to our bosom, every failure to take up our cross, deny ourselves and wholeheartedly follow Jesus is unworthy of him. And it’s to our ultimate harm.

Every little thing that we want to keep for ourselves keeps us from Jesus. It’s only when we actively choose to lose that, to push it all away in favour of Jesus that we actually gain our lives. The world offers to help you find the real you, exceed your personal goals, to become … something. Beware, Jesus assures us that whoever finds his life will lose it. But, if you will throw all that away for the sake of finding Jesus; if you will seek him with all your heart (not just when you’re singing worship songs), practically seeking him in all your life, 24/7, then, and then only, will you find life, life abundant, life fulfilled, life in Jesus who promised that same abundant life, only when we lose ourselves in him.

Too radical for you? Consider the One who says it.

General

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV

On a superficial reading these few verses can seem quite enigmatic, but they’re not. Here’s the background: Paul, in both his letters to the Corinthians is pointing out the distinction between the world and the Church. We can’t belong to both. Not only that, but the world doesn’t understand God, or spiritual things. There’s a battle going on between this world along with those running it, and the world to come that began with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but was planned from before this world was made. Significantly John the Apostle says this of the spirit of this world:

therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

1 John 4:5 ESV

The world listens to those who are ruling it. In this context it’s the same spiritual powers that Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 10. So, how do we battle a world that listens to the spiritual powers controlling it? By listening to God in Christ. The words translated as obey, obedience, and disobedience have at their root the verb to hear. Disobedience is to choose to listen to someone other than God. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden? We choose to listen to God, and not to the world.

The battle is won, then, when we listen to God. That’s not just reading the Bible, or listening to a sermon or a podcast; it’s taking it in and living it out by the power of the Spirit. This is what destroys arguments and everything that is raised against the knowledge of God. This is what taking every thought captive means. Make no mistake, the enemy is real – unseen, but not unknown. If we choose to do nothing then we allow this world to speak to us. If we choose to listen to God we have the assurance of victory – the divine power to destroy strongholds! As Paul tells the church in Ephesus that God’s plan is:

that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 3:10 ESV

General