The Christmas gospel according to John Lennon

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”

With that opening line and the isolated jangling chords, Lennon and co make it clear this isn’t going to be a standard Christmas song. I don’t care for edgy and melancholic Christmas songs usually, we get enough of that anyway, but I think this song has a core vastly more Christmassy than most.

The first line turns a mirror on the listener, not allowing them to escape into snowy jingle bell land just yet. It calls for perhaps uncomfortable refection, (as was often Lennon’s way), asking what have we done, as society, as humanity? This song was a continuation of Lennon’s and Ono’s protest of the Vietnam War, which, although in 1971 was in the process of Nixon’s supposed de-escalation, was still a canvas for atrocities; blanket bombing and mass execution were commonplace, rightly raising the question, what have we done?

“War is over” may not seem like the most Christmassy of ideas, but the concept of peace is a huge deal in the meaning of Christmas, and is still seen in Christmas narratives all over the place. For example the wonderful Christmas day informal truce: peace and football on the Western Front in World War One, which was amiably represented by that advert a few years back. Peace is shown more generally as co-operation, forgiveness, reconciliation, Scrooge coming to peace with his past and future, etc, peace is all over Christmas.

And so it was back at that first Christmas, the one prophesised “Prince of Peace,” came into the world and the angels sang “Glory to God and on Earth be Peace”. But what peace? Where was this peace? Even when Christ came Bethlehem was under military occupation, where was the peace? Was it just in sentiment, proclaiming peace as a good thing?

No, Peace really was on Earth, he was in the manger. He is peace, and what a beautiful picture of peace he is. More he came to bring peace and to make peace.

As we look back as Lennon encourages us to, we know that the prime reason of a lack of peace, is what we’ve done, individually and collectively. The Bible agrees and highlights two things we would probably readily admit too, firstly that our efforts have not brought about total peace with each other, (often the opposite) and secondly that we generally don’t accept God. The Vietnam War may be over but our capacity for destruction and hate seem in no hurry to leave. Imagine how the giver of this world and the one who loves its people, must feel. At the very least we’ve taken the gifts and forgotten the giver, at worst we’ve ridiculed the giver and abused the gifts. If there is a good God, surely they can’t be fond of what we’ve done, and what we seem to go on doing. Jesus agrees and warns that God won’t stand for any evil, so there’s a gap between us and God. You could say there’s conflict.

But, God doesn’t leave it there.

No, God came to us.

Not some representative, but God himself, and he came tiny and bare, born in a stable, and unable to even hold his head up. He redefined greatness to a twisted world and showed that this was to be a peace mission, not won by divine might or force but by love. He came not to negotiate, but to give.

How did people react, well exactly as you’d expect prideful people would, those in power tried to kill him, again and again. Thirty years later, when he’d done countless things to show not only that he was God, but that he was here “to serve, not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for many”, they finally got their wish, and he was willingly executed. And as he died, he shouted “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they do”, and then “it is finished”. As he dies, the peace is sealed, never to be undone. As an early believer and evangelist called Paul writes:

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”  (Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1–The Bible)

Jesus rose again, and now this peace is totally for us, it is the fulfillment of the Christmas gift. And as with any gift it only needs only to be received, we’re not held at ransom by God, the ransom has been paid. We receive it simply by admitting we’ve been wrong and inviting Jesus into our lives as Lord and saviour (The last verse of Away in a Manger is a great start).

This peace can be ours, and be in us as well, a peace that comes from being with Jesus, with all barriers removed by him, it’s a peace that “passes all understanding”, a supernatural peace that isn’t defined by circumstance, fairy lights or candles, it’s realisation of true purpose, so we, like Scrooge, can be at peace with our past and our future, and like with Scrooge, it can totally change how we live now. So among other things we strive for peace on Earth now. Jesus hated the horrors of the Vietnam War more than John Lennon and when Jesus returns, he will ensure wars cease, “so that all may lie down in safety.”

And like Lennon sings, it’s truly open for all, this isn’t a peace only if you can afford it, or peace if you’re the right kind of person. No it’s for “weak and for strong, for young and old, rich and the poor ones, for black and for white”.

Lennon wouldn’t thank me for this, it’s true that he was no great fan of Christianity, (though I don’t know if that meant Jesus to him or not- it should have done). Nonetheless I think that that which Jesus is: Peace, redemption etc, is so foundational to everything that even those against him can’t help but sing of it.

So whatever your circumstances, have a wonderful Christmas, because War is over (If you want it).

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King

 

P.s. If you’ve got questions- I genuinely love trying to answer them, so shoot them my way!

 

 

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Wanna be adored now? The gospel according to The Smiths and The Stone Roses.

What could the often neurotic and manipulative lyrics of the Smiths (admitted as such by Johnny Marr) or the borderline sadistic lyrics of the Stone Roses (fantasising about car crashes for example) have to do with good news? I think the key lies in the lyrics of their biggest songs.

In How Soon is Now? (the Smiths best song according to Mojo and many others) Morrissey details misfortune, shyness and, the topic for this blog; the need for love. I remember hearing this live when seeing Johnny Marr in Hyde Park, the wobbly guitar line builds and builds, slides and builds, Morrissey sings of how he’s a “son and heir of nothing in particular”, then it flares up, reaching the summit of the track, with the line “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.” the line from which the rest of the song is understood. It’s a powerful show of vulnerability, especially for a man hailed as loving nothing more than himself.

What I also find really interesting is that immediately before this line Morrissey bellows a classic teenage angst/moral relativist war cry: “You shut your mouth, how can you say I go about life the wrong way!” a phrase often said to exasperated parents and Christians alike (often before they’ve actually opened their mouths). Yet this line precedes one where he declares a universal truth, to be human, means a need to be loved. So what if someone offered a fulfilment of this love, but it involved admitting that we often go about life the wrong way?

The protagonist of this song, Morrissey or otherwise, is crippled by shyness, he can’t find love, certainly not at clubs. It may well have been Morrissey’s experience, this lack of love is sung of in other songs, for example “Two lovers entwined pass me by, And heaven knows I’m miserable now” (that’s where I’m going with all this).

Anyway hold that thought. Let’s move on to the Stone Roses, who took up the baton of dancable guitar music at the turn of the decade, and what is probably their best known song. Much like How Soon Is Now?, I Wanna Be Adored starts slowly and eeriely and builds and builds, bursting some tension with John Squire’s shimmering guitar line, then the title lyric appears at the summit(s) of the song. The song only contains about 20 different words in total, which, other than “I wanna be adored” are, “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me.” Seemingly a reference to the devil. What’s going on? Well some say the song was an apology to fans for selling out to a hefty record deal. Ian Brown himself is reported to say how he wrote the words to show how wanting to be adored is like a sin, I’m not quite sure what he means by this, but I do see in this song and indeed in life, how it can become like an addiction; a hunger for acceptance and love which, when not met in the right way, can become a dark obsession (we’ll see what I believe the right way is at the end). Another deeper layer is added, with two word changes near the end:

“you adore me
I wanna be adored
I wanna, I gotta be adored”

He is adored by someone but it’s not enough, he wants more, a ever-growing fix! It’s a conflict that seems so rough it can only be adequately expressed in the soaring guitar line.

The reason these lyrics interest me so much is that they come from bands you’d hardly call happy or lovely, indeed often their lyrics seem in direct opposition to positivist mentality and seem to sprout from some of the darkest and loneliest places in the human heart. These lyricists are known for their arrogance, their pride. So these discussed lines seem like anomalies in their vulnerability and focus on love.
But I don’t think these are throw-away lines. I think they genuinely meant it, whether deeply personally, or just by knowing the power of what they were singing. In How Soon Is Now?, the lack of love leads to hopelessness as the last verse says.

“When you say it’s gonna happen now
Well when exactly do you mean?
See I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone.”

In I wanna be adored, the desire seems all consuming, resulting in giving into obsession.
In short, neither situation has a satisfying fulfilment of the love sort, and it’s lead to hurt, or a sense of trapping (and 2 brilliant songs).

So is there any hope? Any answer to these problems? I’m convinced there is.
You see, this sense of needing to be loved is the Christian starting point, we all sense the need for love, and we see that other things don’t quite suffice, we can feel trapped and disappointed.

But there is an answer in Jesus, he displays God’s utter faithfulness and love, we see it most clearly on the cross, to take away any divide between us and God. This is the love we were made to know and enjoy, this love is unchanging, eternal, we don’t earn it, we only recieve it, it’s open for all, and this love is enough. It’s a waterfall or a light that never goes out.

“This is love, not that we loved God, but he loved us and gave his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.” (1 John 4:10)

“I pray that you.. may have power.. to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18)

The down-to-earth God (and why I love Him )

What does “down to earth” mean? I’m not totally sure, other than it’s a kind of politicians dream to be called as such. It’s pretty good to hear from the in-laws as well I’d imagine, as well as potential employers..

After lots of over thinking I guess it can be summarised as: To be understanding, and to be understood. And that’s not a bad a way of looking at Christmas too.

At Christmas we see the God who (unlike any big religion) came down among his creation as one of us.

Born not among kings or elites, but sheep, oxen, their young and their dung. No social status is alien to him. His first few days on Earth were spent as a refugee, he was a woodworker, and would later on be jeered, bereaved, falsely accused, beaten, whipped and executed. That isn’t the life you’d expect God to lead. Of course he did many many things that we could never relate too, although I’m sure we’d all like to turn water into wine or make our packed lunch go a bit further. The point is he not just knows about what it is to be human, he’s been there. Tears and smiles like us he knew.

Better than this, he came to answer the biggest of all questions; is there a God, and if so what is he like? He came that we may understand him. He laid aside all his glories and came in the most relatable and understandable way, as a person. Jesus goes on to say, once you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. Jesus was full of grace and truth, not shy to speak the truth or hold back his words, but also not shy to forgive, to teach, to help and to heal. He helps with fishing and made breakfast for his followers. If God is just like Jesus, and I and over a billion people believe so, then it is surely very good news!

The bible says the point where we most clearly see what God is like, is when Jesus died on the cross. That’s incredible; that’s what God shows us of himself; sacrificial, dying with the words ‘Father forgive them’, leaving his lips. He wants to relate to us because he desperately wants us to know him and be in relationship with him.

In the 1980s a Christian missionary called Andrew went to a man heavily linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah, one of his friends was at that time being held hostage by them. Andrew found an appointment with this leader, declared himself a follower of Jesus and, after exchanginging pleasentries, he offered to replace his friend as hostage. The sheik was shocked, “How can you say that?, he asked, Andrew replied: “That is the spirit of Jesus, he died on the cross to let us go free. He died so we could live. That’s what Christianity is about”. (see God’s Smuggler)

“I’ve never heard of this kind of Christianity..” He said.

Churches in Iraq have recently been liberated from isis control (Hooray!). Many of them have been destroyed and vandalised, graffiti reading “Our God is higher than the cross.” has been scrawled over one. They’ve obviously misunderstood Christianity, of course my God is higher than the cross, that’s the point. He came down, down to Earth, down even to the cross, dying in my place, to reconcile me to him. That’s the God I follow.

And that’s why I love Him.

(one of the reasons anyway).

Merry Christmas all!

P.s. Check out this poem done by a friend of mine, it does this better than me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFfiRXTWNvM&feature=youtu.be&list=PLQHhNTViYlPg8s81I5B-Z1HXiLhvEe7N8

EH.

This is in response to my friend, let’s call him Thaddeus McRomannose for now, whom I randomly suggested should write a blog, it gave me the long needed incentive to do it myself, though all I really see myself doing is spouting rather pretentious stuff that no-one bar Thaddeus himself, if he sticks around.But who knows maybe some soul will discover it and be filled with wisdom and what not.. I digress.

Since last week I handed out water bottles to a very drunk French man, ran down a road with a pineapple in hand and watched a man fend off an aggressive swan using nothing but his wit and his cape. All of this, in an indirect way, was because I follow and want to serve Jesus. Thought i’d state that at first cause I can’t really pretend like it hasn’t completely changed my life.. I’m very grateful for all these funny stories as they stick around in my head and give me openers at awkward parties, but i’m also grateful for his eternal love, forgiveness and companionship, you know, just by the by.

Weirdly, after a year and a bit at uni, I’ve finally started the course I intended to study, and I very much enjoyed it today (except the french but I won’t go there for fear of ptsd) so it’s not been a year spent in vein.. I mean finding a lovely girl who wants to be with me and an even more loving God who wants likewise was pretty good too.

How’s your course Thaddeus? And any funny stories from last week?  Over to you..

(p.s. noodles and butter; the jury is still out, but perhaps not again)