Last week I had the privilege of bringing two gospel messages in different contexts in Durham.
The first was the CU’s Carol Service at Durham Cathedral, which drew a congregation of around 2000 guests. It was the first time I’d ever spoken in a cathedral that large, and I was fortunately given some helpful advice on speaking in that setting (and dealing with the echo!). I was asked to speak from John’s Gospel and, given that a couple of recent messages had used the Prologue, I spoke from John 3:16. I tried to emphasise how Christmas relates to our intuition at this time of the year that love matters most:
I wonder if you’ve ever noticed just how many rom-coms are set at Christmas. Sleepless in Seattle, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’ Diary. My stepfather-in-law’s favourite, The Holiday is always ready to be inflicted on the wider family. At Christmastime, we’re ready to celebrate love.
We don’t need to be as sentimental as my stepfather-in-law to feel that it’s love that makes the world go round. When we hear a rumour that someone loves us, we’re intrigued. And that’s because, more than anything else, we want to know that we are loved.
It’s not just some frothy emotional effervescence that we crave. We sense that we thrive most when we’re loved. Perhaps you’ve know someone who’s never been sure where they stand when it comes to their parents’ love. They are often inhibited by tender sadness. Conversely, when we sense that we are loved, we can be inspired to accomplish some amazing things.
You can read the full message here.
The second message was a Christmas brunch, also hosted by Durham CU, and took place the day after the Carol Service. I wanted to emphasise that the Christmas story is not only desirable, but trustworthy and reliable. I spoke from Luke 2 (having been massively helped by Peter Mead’s excellent book Pleased to Dwell).
A friend of mine was studying the Bible for the first time with a friend who wasn’t a Christian. And, though English was her first language, her friend who was new to the Bible kept misunderstanding it. In one account, Jesus heals a leper – but she thought it was talking about Jesus healing a leopard. The climax of the gospel accounts is when a Roman centurion says, “Surely this man is the Son of God.” But she thought that the centurion was actually a centaur – half man, half horse.
Though many of us don’t get quite as confused as her, I think that’s how many of us understand the Bible. It’s as if we’re being transported into a world of fairy-tale. So we keep it at arms distance. We may hear the invitation of God’s eternal love but we think – that might be true in a fairy-tale – but what about real life?
Again, read the full message here.