You're never too old for a nativity
Blown away this Tuesday, not by the wind but by Turner. I’m under significant pressure at the moment – Christmas, of course, as well as several funerals but this year, no curate and colleagues Gordon and Jonathan out of action through illness. What would Jesus do? “Let’s take a break,” he told his weary disciples in Mark 6:31. So rather than take just one day off this week I decided to take two. Sometimes the priority for the sake of others is to look after yourself. So off we went to Lime Street to visit daughter Sharon and her family in central London for one night. Sharon had been telling me how she had become a fan of Tate Britain and so using our bus passes she took us to this beautiful neoclassical building on the north bank of the Thames, situated between MI5 and MI6. I knew I was being watched. This gave the opportunity to visit the current exhibition of the final period of JMW Turner – “Painting set free.” And it was truly inspirational but for one reason I did not anticipate. To quote from the programme: “The last 16 years of JMW Turner, from 1835 when he turned 60, saw an extraordinary creative flowering. During this time he produced some of his most audacious and innovative works. For many admirers today, his reputation rests on this consummate achievement.” Basically Turner not only refused to retire at the extraordinary old age of 60 – he had just got going. Years of experience and experiment, of day-to-day graft and continual interaction with fellow artists were now beginning to bear fruit. This OAP was now pushing the boundaries out, entering new territory and transforming the way we see light. What I hadn't realized that one of my favourite paintings, borrowed from the National Gallery for the occasion, was painted when Turner was about 68. That’s even older than me. Just marvel at “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway.” http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Rain_Steam_and_Speed_the_Great_Western_Railway.jpg What I hadn't realized is that he saw each piece of art as provisional. Not only would he be reworking paintings last minute as they were about to be exhibited, I knew that. However, he would take paintings he had produced when he was in his 30’s and completely revise them some 35 years later He could now see what he did not see then. In my Bible readings earlier this year I had been looking at how scripture understands age. Abraham, Moses and David – all who lived to a great age – had many years to develop their relationship with God, to learn from their mistakes and to develop wisdom. Probably the apostle Paul would come under this category as well, even through he was probably martyred. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he writes to Timothy, to whom he entrusts his calling for the next generation. (2 Timothy 4:7). But before we start idealising old age, we need to realize that Jesus himself was in his early 30’s “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.” (Luke 3:23). And Jesus went so far as to point us to young children as a sign of the Kingdom of God. So in a pivotal passage Matthew tells us When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things Jesus was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?” Jesus teaches that God may give to the very young insights which somehow elude their elders and so he refers to an ancient scripture, Psalm 8, possibly written by an old man. The essential point is that we are not to be defined by our age but by our relationship with God. And for that reason, the wonder of Christmas is for everyone and not just for children. As we age, so our understanding is enriched. In fact, one of the most moment of profound joy in the Bible is when the elderly Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and blesses God: God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel. Do have a joy-filled Christmas – and join us for our various services. You’re never too old for a nativity.