Taking the hopping out of Christmas shopping.
With just four days to go, I’m feeling remarkably relaxed – even with three granddaughters currently resident. (That’s why I’m writing this blog at this ridiculously early time, before they descend and spread mayhem!) However, it’s not the reason you would expect -that I am now retired from being a vicar with all the demands of Christmas. I can offer the reason in just one word: Amazon. Choosing and buying Christmas presents can be an exhausting business, not least with four daughters, four sons-in-law and ten grandchildren. On top of this, two extended family members abroad and what seems to me like a host of small gifts for friends. In previous years this would mean several serious shopping visits. This would traditionally include traipsing between stores, usually in different towns, searching for the right size. It would mean standing in long queues and carrying large, occasionally heavy, parcels back to the car park or station. But no more. In fact, ordering coffee in Costa, Jacqui suggested buying one particular gift for a daughter. Great idea. I opened the app on my mobile and made a couple of clicks. Just like that. “Yes, with chocolate, please.” And such ease of purchase has transformed this season of good will, taking the hopping out of shopping. However, this new technology is also in the process of transforming our high streets and at an ever-rapid pace. You may have read this week of retailer John Timpson’s report on our high streets, commissioned by the government. He considers that there are twice as many shops as we need. Of course, we can hanker after the old days. But this hard-nosed businessman pulled no punches. “High streets will not return to how they were 10 or 20 years ago.” There is an excellent editorial in this morning’s Economist on nostalgia. “Politicians have always exploited the past. But just now, rich countries and emerging economies are experiencing an outbreak of nostalgia. Right and left, democracies and autocracies, all are harking back to the glories of yesteryear.” The reasons, of course, are complex – they always are. Amazon as such wasn’t mentioned but implied as the editorial observed: “New technologies, including artificial intelligence, threaten to disrupt entire industries and to alter the relationship between the state and the citizen.” And its conclusion? “A proper sense of history helps you grasp that progress depends on facing up to hard choices. Sometimes it can inspire, too.” Christians should be able to handle nostalgia. Secure in Christ we simply have no need to live in the past. In fact, his cross has broken its unrelenting grip. And so we dare to live in the present, facing up to all the challenges we see and more, to the challenges we don’t yet see. Of course, we draw on the resources from the past, not least on reflecting on how God in his faithfulness has led us through testing times. This is absolutely essential for the Bible writers. So the writer of Psalm 107 rehearses all the times when God has rescued his people and concludes: “Let those who are wise pay attention to these things. Let them think about the loving deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 107:43). Tradition – not to be confused with nostalgia – is important as each generation of disciples passes onto the next its spiritual heritage. But at the same time we need to recall that the past was not always a golden age. In fact, the very opposite. So the apostle Paul may write to the new believers: “Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12) Or as the Message colourfully paraphrases: “You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large.” So we do not fear the future and new ways of doing things. The very opposite, we as Christians should be in the vanguard of change, prepared to make hard choices. In fact, in our passion to share Jesus with a restless world we seek, in the words of the apostle Paul, “to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10.5). So it was great to hear that the Cof E’s digital strategy team came top in five categories at this year’s digital industry’s awards. And this Christmas they are giving us #FollowTheStar. So we are to adapt quickly, take risks and of course, make mistakes but like Google, we need to learn to fail fast. Neither are we to neglect the justice issues which this digital age is throwing up. We owe this no less to God and to our communities. For all it’s often only the churches who have the resources (i.e. the people) to take on the challenge of this new order. Certainly here in Ormskirk it is only the churches who could provide street pastors as our town becomes an entertainment hub, particularly over this festive season. For as people we need to be with people – that’s how God has made us. And his Holy Spirit continues this ministry of enabling relationships as a foretaste of God’s wonderful new creation, the greatest Christmas gift of them all. And the grandchildren are still in bed! Merry Christmas!