I’m writing this article on Thanksgiving day (Thursday 22nd November). A day when millions of Americans give thanks to God for all that he provides (similar to our harvest tradition but in typical American fashion, scaled up 100 times). While I think the idea of Thanksgiving is a wonderful one, it often strikes me as one of the many oddities of society - that Black Friday is the next day. A Friday when the gratefulness of the day before is quickly forgotten and people move their thoughts on to all of the things which God hasn’t provided, but Amazon will (for half price).
Reflecting on this peculiarity has reminded of how complacent we Christians can approach special events in the Church’s calendar. It’s probably unfair of me to pick on citizens of the U.S.A and the irony that surrounds their Thanksgiving/Black Friday traditions. Especially considering here in Northern Ireland, and dare I say it in Granshaw, we are capable of complacency on an equal scale.
We are fast approaching Christmas and no other church calendar event is surrounded by as much complacency, craziness and tinsel (which should be banned - horrible stuff). At Christmas we try to make ordinary stuff, extraordinary. Thousands of blinking lights all over our house, over-priced Disney decorations hanging from artificial trees, insane quantities of Turkey which we don’t even like the rest of the year, and so many wrapped presents under the tree that we can’t even remember what we bought. All to make Christmas extraordinary.
And yet Christmas was always supposed to be the opposite. Making the extraordinary, ordinary. It was always about God choosing to come to earth as an ordinary person like you and I. He was born in underwhelming accommodation, which wouldn’t have made the pages of TripAdvisor, in a sleepy village. He grew up in a backwater town called Nazareth, from which nobody expected anything good to come. And he hung around with 12 average Joe’s. No lights. No office Secret Santa. No ‘Shloer’. Jesus was willing to give up heavenly praise and communion with his Father to live a difficult, working class, Middle Eastern life - all for us. God chose to do something ‘extraordinary’ through the ‘ordinary’.
Tomorrow, as I laugh at people knocking each other over with shopping trolleys filled with 50” LED TV’s it would be worth me remembering that all of us are capable of going through the motions at Christmas. We have massively over-complicated an incredible holiday in the Christian calendar. It should be a time when we take great joy in the ordinary things that God has given us every day of the year. Family. Friends. A home. A church that we can belong to. And a relationship with the God of the universe.
And when we simplify Christmas and focus on these things, we begin to see the extraordinary in them. God is extraordinary. But he normally works through the people he’s placed in our families, our work places and our churches.
This Christmas I would love to see Granshaw focusing on the ordinary at Christmas. Celebrating family, friends, church and Jesus. To help us do that we are launching Project 25 again. This is a really simple 25 day family devotion that will help you focus on the true meaning of Christmas and be grateful for the ordinary things in your life. Some days there is a Bible reading, other days there is just a bit of fun (because God loves good ordinary fun). But the most important thing is not what you do, but how you do it. Do it with a thankful heart.
And maybe you’re reading this too late for Project 25. It’s January. Well that’s ok. You can still give thanks for the ordinary. In the same way that the day after Thanksgiving isn’t too late to give thanks; the month after Christmas isn’t too late to be thankful for all that God has done for you either.
I’m super thankful for what God has done at Granshaw this year. Our church continues to grow; more and more teenagers are coming to GIG and YoungLife to hear the gospel; we are still blessed as a church to have the opportunity to take part in the life of local schools; our kids work is struggling to cope with the number of kids whose parent’s are trusting us with them; Louder was bigger than ever; teenagers came to faith at YoungLife camp and others were baptised; we had 13 new communicants; various weddings; and those who have been ill or lost loved ones have been cared for by their church family.
To be honest all of this is just an ordinary year at Granshaw. But then God often chooses to do the extraordinary through ordinary little places like our church.
Let’s never get complacent. Let’s not rush on into the new year. Let’s stop and give thanks first.