Throughout the Old Testament God speaks to his people, urging them to put aside things that distract them from him, things that dishonour him.
At one point he says,
“Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on…do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt.” Ezekiel 20:7
In ancient times God called his people out of Egypt. Today God calls his people to come out of ‘the world’ around us. That is, to be wise to the idols of the culture we find ourselves living in, and to cast these idols away.
Black Friday has certainly revealed one of these idols loud and clear. Yet it is easy to distance ourselves from the blatant madness of Black Friday riots – but not so easy when the idol of materialism is dressed up in a cute John Lewis penguin advert. Or when you do your weekly food shop and you see something that would make a great extra present for one of your kids.
All materialism serves to achieve is to distract us from worshiping God. Whether we are getting ourselves crushed in an insane Black Friday shopping spree, or whether we are clicking on the insipid adverts in the middle of our facebook pages, we are demonstrating that we are putting our trust in the possessions we can accumulate. Is that what you really want to be trusting in?
This young man is an example to us all. As reported in the Birmingham Mail, 8 year old Ethan Edwards leads the way in living a life that confronts consumerism with a care and love for those less fortunate. The lad only went and persuaded all his relatives to give to Birmingham Central Foodbank instead of getting presents himself!
Why does it take a child to remind us that this is an option, that we don’t need presents at Christmas at all? It really is great to choose to give a thoughtful gift to a loved one but what percentage of gifts were given freely? I suspect many presents were bought as a result of the cultural compulsion that, at the very least, we need to buy one present for every significant family member otherwise we’re not doing Christmas properly.
When the John Lewis ad came out there was much gushing for the skill and artistry that went into it . However, all the advert did was add to the tidal wave of consumerism that washes away all but the most stubborn of selfless Christmas spirit. I’m glad that young Ethan manages to resist what we all tell him about Christmas and shows that there is a different path to choose.
I’m as guilty as the next and need to make decisions this Christmas to make sure next Christmas puts others before the urge to buy buy buy.
Seems like I’ve been dead busy for weeks now. My creative juices run weakly, energy is low and social opportunities abound. This all leads to a lack of thoughtful blogging. So I’ll just give you a quick summary of what has been going on.
Norwegian and British Christmas came and went, then there was the task of distributing 4000 Christmas Boxes donated through Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan’s Purse from the UK. It is a different perspective to see the issues surrounding getting them to the children who would enjoy them the most. The project was headed up here by student worker Danijel who worked tirelessly amidst politics and harassment to get the packages out – all Rada and I really did was take two car loads of shoe boxes to Rada’s dad’s old school up in the village. What an incredible experience and warm reception! They treated us like honoured guests and gifted us with a book of the history of the school and fed and watered us very satisfactorily at their end of year feast.
Rada giving out shoe box presents sent from the UK
We have also hosted a New Years party, a family of visiting Norwegians and my old friend Bojan. I hadn’t seen him for over 3 years but it was one of those precious friendships that takes off where it left of and then deepens immediately. An amazing time but sadly Bojan is going back to Serbia today.
Mathilda, Bojan & Emil at New Years - they're all taller than me
Yesterday was Christmas in Montenegro. I managed to pace myself better than my last Christmas here when, after 5 visits before 1pm, I felt a bit like Dawn French in the Christmas episode of the Vicar of Dibley….remember? So was pretty exhausted yesterday but at least I could move without….well I’ll spare you the details.
Tomorrow is our Christmas service followed by lunch together at the church. Looking forward to being with people and celebrating the birth of our saviour.
Rada’s parent’s kindly donated one of their turkeys to help us celebrate 25th December British style. It didn’t feel too much at all like a normal Christmas but the turkey helped and I made stuffing for the first time – a very commendable apple and sausage effort. The turkey weighed a whopping 12kg (that’s over 25 lbs!) so we only cooked half of it and even then there was tonnes left over.
The best bit was having Rada’s family round for the Christmas dinner. Here’s a few pictures if you’re interested.
Half a British Christmas Dinner
Rada’s niece – Ina
Rada’s niece – Sara
On Christmas Eve we were invited to the home of the Norwegian students for a ‘traditional’ Norwegian Christmas celebration. It was a fabulous time – it was amazing to see how many people the students have built friendships with over the last few months. It is fantastic having them in Niksic and they are a credit to their families, school and country.
The Christmas Story in Norwegian and Serbian
I almost ruined the whole night by accidentally dropping an almond in the porridge – part of the fun with eating the porridge is that one person gets an almond and they try and keep it in their mouth till the end of the meal – but my foolishness added a second almond to proceedings. The porridge itself was interesting with cinnamon and meat. I had a great night. Thanks guys!
Porridge with meat
To be honest I had barely missed the UK for the first two months in Montenegro. There are a some people I had affectionate thoughts of and it’s frustrating not being able to watch Match of the Day. But apart from that I was very satisfied being in Montenegro.
But I must admit Christmas time has hit a bit hard. It hurts to think of friends and family gathering without you. It’s nice to catch up on facebook but it also reminds you of what you’re missing.
Below you can listen to Coles Corner by Richard Hawley. The video comes across a bit cheap but the music and lyrics resonate with feelings of loneliness in a way that lifts the soul. Coles Corner was a traditional meeting point for Sheffield people. It was before my time but I must have spent hours just down from Coles Corner waiting for buses and friends and watching the world go by. Would love to spend just 10 minutes there now….
We’re celebrating Christmas today, but we’re not exposed to the traditional lead-up that is experienced in the UK. So it doesn’t feel at all like a normal Christmas. Nevertheless, Rada’s parent’s gave us one of their turkeys (ready to cook!) and we’ll have the family round later today for a half traditional British Christmas Dinner. We’ll have another set of celebrations Montenegro style on 7th January – the Orthodox date for Christmas.
So I was lying in bed this morning, asleep, when I was awoken by a big crash from the kitchen. I went through to see our stuffing breadcrumbs on the floor and the glass bowl they were in smashed. It was the cat, she had been ragging the bag of tomatoes around and knocked the bowl on the floor. I was really really angry. I must admit my instinct was to take off my slipper and throw it at the guilty creature hiding under the table. But I remembered…
…today is the day we celebrate the Son of God coming to earth as a human. Although he was God and had authority over all creation he chose to come in the humblest human form. A vulnerable baby. Remember what comes a few months after Christmas?
Easter. When Jesus was resurrected he defeated death and he also defeated the power of sin in our lives. I wanted to lash out at the cat because I was angry. I wasn’t just angry because of the breadcrumbs. I was angry because I’m a human and often anger is lurking under the surface waiting for an excuse to pop out and vent itself. But to lose control of your anger is wrong and damages yourself and others. But I follow Jesus and God’s presence is in me, so I can choose not to lash out. I can choose to ask his God to give me self-control and peace…
…and remember what we’re celebrating today.