Friday, 23 December 2016

The Dragon and the Child: A Christmas Story

I recently stumbled across a blog post which on the surface seemed a little surprising. When sharing a Christmas reflection I usually default to Luke who tells the story of Shepherds being greeted by a choir of angels heralding the birth of Christ. On occasion I'll look to John and his reflections on the Word putting on flesh and pitching his tent alongside us. But never in my life had I used the cosmic imagery of an enormous red dragon waiting to devour a child that can be found in Revelation 12.

And yet, this is a Christmas Story and it goes like this:

'A pregnant woman is about to give birth. Standing in front of her readying himself to devour the about-to-be-born child is a giant, red dragon with seven heads and ten horns.

The child is born. He is one who will rule the nations. But before the dragon can devour the child, the child is snatched up to heaven.

And then an epic battle erupts in Heaven. Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his cronies. But the dragon is defeated and hurled from Heaven. And as the ensuing song of victory declares, the dragon has been defeated by the Blood of the Lamb.'

Revelation is written in an apocalyptic genre. It uses fantastical symbols and images to retell stories. The closest parallel I can think in more recent literature is the way C.S. Lewis uses strange characters and events to retell the gospel story in his Chronicles of Narnia. Revelation draws richly upon Old Testament symbols and 1st Century Greco-Roman images to retell the story of Israel, Jesus and the church.

Here in Revelation 12, John is retelling the Christ story. It draws out images and meaning we don't tend to correlate with the Nativity Scene. When thinking of Christmas we think of peace, singing, joy, a baby in a manger surrounded by smelly animals, shepherds and wise people.

And yet Revelation 12 draws out other aspects of the Christmas story. Namely that in the birth of Christ, God is invading the world. He's choosing to go to war against the dragon who is the picture of evil in all it's hideous strength.

Enough is enough and the havoc the dragon has wreaked--injustice, brokenness, hatred, fear, loneliness, violence--will be ended, and the Prince of Peace will reign throughout the world.

So while the Christmas story is a story about a defenseless child who is the hope of the world, it's also a story about a summons to battle, a grand strategy to defeat evil which culminates with this little child living amongst us, being crucified and rising again to life on the third day.

While Christ has won the victory, the battle still rages. We see the dragon rearing his ugly head in all kinds of ways. But let us also remember this Christmas, that when God invaded the world on that starry day in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, he called us to join with him to continue fighting the good fight. While we still see brokenness and evil, death and violence, we know that ultimately the victory has been won because Christ is with us.

Hallelujah and glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace because the Saviour is born this night.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

What I've learnt about South Islanders

My wife and I have now lived in the South Island for two years. They've been a great two years. We've enjoyed the scenery and the people. And for the most part, these Southern folk are similar to their Northern neighbours. They share similar qualities and values: DIY, gumboots and number 8 wire, tramping and extreme sports, Tall Poppy Syndrome, L&P, Rugby and cricket. On the face of it, we are one people. But after living amongst these Southerners I've picked up on a few quirks. Let me share some of these distinctive qualities that have emerged from my engagement with the Dunedin locals.

1) The Weather
When I first arrived in Dunedin, I was given the advice to never bring up the weather. That has never been a problem for me, because Southerners seem preoccupied with the weather. I'm not sure whether it's because half of the folks are farmers and the weather is really important, or whether it's because they are in some ways constantly apologizing/defensive about the 10 seasons in one day that Duendin constantly serves up or the way the window freezes up on the inside of the house in the middle of winter.

2) Holiday Homes
I use the word 'holiday homes' to make sure we are all talking about the same thing. You see, in the North Island we call them 'baches'. In the South Island, they are 'cribs'. I always thought a crib was something a baby slept in. It made for an interesting conversation when I was first invited to stay in someone's crib...

3) The word 'wee'
Now this one, I'm pretty sure is localised in Dunedin due to its Scottish heritage. When I use the word 'wee' I mean to say 'little' or 'small' rather than something that you do in the toilet. Folks down here use that word all the time. In fact folks use it so often, they sometimes don't use it in the proper context. For example a 'wee' visit may last a couple hours.

4) Attitudes toward the North Island
The other day I was describing a recent holiday and in the course of the conversation caught myself using the word 'bach'. Well, the look I received. All I can say is 'if looks could kill'! But I think it's a pretty fair summation of a general attitude down here toward the North Island (It's pretty similar to everyone in the North Island's attitude toward Auckland). North Islanders are quick to say to tourists they should definitely tour the South Island. South Islanders are very quick to tell tourists not to bother visiting the North Island. Suffice to say, I don't often volunteer the information that I'm a born and bred North Islander...let alone the fact that I lived in Auckland for 6 years.

5) Everyone seems related
Growing up in Taumarunui I got used to everyone calling each other their cousin. Down here, everyone actually seems related.  One time I managed to introduce a sister to her brother. It does create a lovely familial feel though where cousins grow up together. The problem though is you have to be very careful complaining about someone to another person. Chances are they are somehow related.

6) Puffer Jackets
Up north, it's generally hard core adventurers and 12 year old girls who wear big, down feather puffer jackets. Due to reasons which will remain unnamed (see point 1) this is one contextual anomaly which I have whole-heartedly accepted. I'm pretty sure it must be part of the uniform down here. I have barely taken mine off the whole time since arriving. And the best bit is, you are no less of a man for wearing one.

These are just some of the quirks and distinctives of the South Island folks. I've thoroughly enjoyed the culture and my time here. It's well worth popping over the Strait for a wee visit. The scenery is amazing, and the people are brilliant too!