COMING (FOURTH WEEK IN ADVENT)
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
When a statue of the baby Jesus was stolen from a nativity scene, the South Australian Brewing Company offered a reward for its return. They promised six cases of beer to anyone who returned the statue to the company’s traditional nativity display. “We are very concerned about the well-being of Baby Jesus and we are calling for his swift and safe return,” said SABC’s managing director.
The one whose birth is the reason for the parties and fun at this time of year is frequently absent from the minds of those enjoying them. Christmas without Christ is the experience of the majority in the western world. But Christ’s exclusion from Christmas isn’t entirely inappropriate. After all, the biblical story suggests that God chose to come into the world without a great deal of fuss and palaver. Mary and Joseph, themselves of no great social significance, would have hardly been likely to shout about the pregnancy for fear of being thought either immoral or mad. Only a few chosen people, themselves outsiders in that culture, were party to the significance of what was happening.
Perhaps God prefers a certain anonymity. When he does become the focus of attention, he is so frequently misrepresented. In the life of the world and in our own lives too, it’s often what’s going on underneath the surface and the changes which at first seem insignificant that in the end have the most profound effect.
The South Australian Brewing Company may well be concerned about the well-being of their statue but the absence of an often over-sentimentalised and insipid image of Christ from many Christmas celebrations doesn’t mean the real Jesus isn’t there.
Read: Mary said, “My soul celebrates the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant” Luke 1.46-48
Rejoice: that God often chooses to become part of my life without me realising it.
Reflect: Is anything happening in me beneath the surface where Christ might be at work?
Remember: that God works effectively even when he’s not the focus of attention.
Resolve: To expect to find Jesus in unexpected places.
The new ReadyWhenURKettle is operated by text message. It contains a radio receiver and levers which turn the kettle on when an SMS message is picked up. Tea company PG Tips, who have worked with Orange to produce the kettle, are hoping for success. A spokesman said: ‘It’s a great gadget that will give people longer to see their favourite TV shows.’
Modern technology is making it easier to do all sorts of things from a distance. We can shop without going to shops, we can confer with colleagues all over the world without leaving the office, we can see our photographs without taking them to be developed. It is becoming distinctly unfashionable to have to make the effort to go anywhere.
God’s choice to come into our world shows that God was prepared to “make an effort”. He’d had enough of doing things from a distance and wanted to come and share in what it is to be human, with all its joys and its struggles. The result was that he experienced the same challenge as we do to respond to his fellow human beings’ needs. The real world isn’t one where people sit in their armchairs enjoying every modern convenience but a world where there are many demands on anyone who is prepared to go out of their way to bring support, comfort and healing to others.
There is lots to be grateful for in contemporary labour-saving devices. But God has set us an example of the kind of committed caring which is not labour-saving at all but involves the giving of time and energy. We can follow his example most effectively when in doing so we seek the help of the one who set it.
Read: Let the same mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus who….emptied himself taking the form of a slave. (Phil 2.5,7)
Rejoice: that God perseveres when I make it hard for him to love me.
Reflect: How might I put more effort into my relationship with Christ?
Remember: sometimes it’s caring for myself I need to put more effort into.
Resolve: to go out of my way to care for someone.
After Babs the gorilla died at age 30, keepers at Brookfield Zoo in the States decided to allow surviving gorillas to mourn her. Babs’ 9-year-old daughter, Bana, was the first to approach the body. She sat down, held Babs’ hand and stroked her mother’s stomach. Then she laid her head on Babs’ arm. Other gorillas approached Babs and gently sniffed the body. Koola brought her infant daughter and held her close to Babs, as she had frequently done when Babs was alive. “I had a headache for the rest of the day after all the tears I cried watching them,” said their keeper.
Touching was central to the way these gorillas expressed their grief. There are many other emotions touching can convey. Comfort, affection, reassurance, sympathy as well as greeting and farewell can all be physically expressed. One of the messages of Christmas is that God wanted to be able to express feelings in physical ways. By being born in the flesh, God not only made bodily contact with the world. God also experienced something new – the delight that having a body with all its sensations can bring.
Jesus knew the value of touch – he often touched those he was healing – and God’s coming to touch the world with his presence was partly to offer us healing. There’s a power in touch that words or actions alone can’t match. Using our hands and bodies to communicate with those we care for, to share with them how we’re feeling and to offer them tenderness, is a gift God’s given us too.
Read: Jesus took her by the hand and said, “My child……” (Luke 8.54)
Rejoice: in the delight that touch can bring
Reflect: Would I benefit from asking someone close to me for more touching or hugs?
Remember: that God’s touch in my life can heal me.
Resolve: to use touch today to offer someone comfort or encouragement (remembering that some people’s past experience makes being touched unwelcome).
One of the exhibits in the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum in Oregon is a cardboard box. “Low-tech and unpretentious it may be, but the cardboard box has fostered learning and creativity for multiple generations and in many cultures,” said the chief curator. “I think every adult has had that disillusioning experience of picking what they think is a wonderful toy for a child and then finding the kid playing with the box. It’s that empty box full of possibilities that the kids can sense and the adults don’t always see.”
There are enormous possibilities for fun in the simplest and most unlikely things. It often takes a childlike attitude to see them but it’s an attitude people of any age can develop. Something similar is true of the ability to become aware of God. Children are fascinated by boxes because their imagination enables them to see more than is actually there. It becomes a spaceship, castle or a haven to daydream in. Discovering God in our lives is not “imagining things” but the process is helped by having imagination. There are places and times where most people expect to be conscious of God because of their religious connotations but a playful attitude to life is often helpful in finding him in less obvious places – not least because there’s something playful in God too.
Developing the capacity to have fun will enrich us. It might also help us become more open to letting God come to us in the simple, ordinary aspects of our lives.
Read: Wisdom was at (God’s) side each day, his darling and delight, playing in his presence continually, playing over his whole world (Proverbs 8.30-31)
Rejoice: in the fun I have.
Reflect: Are there any ways in which I take myself too seriously?
Remember: With God I am safe enough to let my seriousness go.
Resolve: to ‘become like a child’ (Mark 10.15)
Dog lovers in Japan can now get to see the world as their pets do. Toy maker Tomy Co. Ltd. has launched a tiny digital camera which can be attached to the dog’s collar. It can take pictures by using a remote control, letting owners “enjoy pictures from their dogs’ view,” the company said. Or owners can put on a time switch taking pictures at intervals of one minute to one hour.
The capacity to understand how things look from someone else’s point of view is a gift. But it is one we can develop as a way of enlarging our ability to offer appropriate care and sensitive support. It also adds richness to our lives when we’re able to enjoy not only our own way of seeing things but can also get glimpses of other people’s too.
The Bible’s understanding of what happened in the birth of Jesus is, among other things, that God got to see what human life is like from the inside. This is reassuring for us because we can know that when we seek God’s help, the one we are approaching for support and care knows what it’s like to be human. But it seems it was important for God too – taking flesh expanded, so to speak, God’s experience – and God clearly saw the process as a vital aspect of his love for the world.
The cameras used by dog owners only enable them to see what their dog sees – they’re given no idea what the dog feels about it. If we try to get inside other people’s skin as God got inside ours, we can at least begin to understand what makes them tick.
Read: The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them. (Revelation 21.3)
Rejoice: that God is intimately aware of how I’m feeling.
Reflect: Is there anyone whose motivation or internal dynamics I need to work harder to understand?
Remember: empathy is very difficult when my experience of life is very different from the other person’s – but it’s worth trying.
Resolve: to see something from someone else’s point of view today.
One Christmas, Madame Tussauds ruffled feathers by displaying a nativity scene in which Hugh Grant and Graham Norton were among the shepherds, Tony Blair, the Duke of Edinburgh and George Bush were wise men and Joseph and Mary were represented by David and Victoria Beckham. The characters were chosen by public vote.
The tableau may not have been in good taste but more importantly it ignored a central theme in the Christian celebration of Christmas. The characters in the biblical story are all unknowns. Even the place where the baby was born – Bethlehem – was ‘least of all the cities of Judah’ until it was chosen as Christ’s birthplace.
No public vote would have produced the same result as God’s choice. God wanted to challenge human judgements about status and to make clear how important and valuable apparently insignificant people are.
There are millions of people all over the world whose status, measured in economic or social terms, is insignificant. Their plight must often seem to them to have been forgotten by those of us who are in a position to do something to bring them greater justice. Nearer to home too, there’ll be people we know who’re feeling sidelined or unimportant.
“We’re sorry if we have offended people,” said a spokeswoman for the museum. She said they had tried to respect tradition, using a plastic doll in the manger. It’s no plastic doll but a real baby who shares in the experience of millions in our world who know what it’s like to be forgotten and anonymous.
Read: He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly (Luke 1.52)
Rejoice: that people don’t have to be important to matter to God.
Reflect: How affected am I by people’s status?
Remember: When I recognise someone’s innate value, I’m contributing to their well-being, especially when I let them know it.
Resolve: to look for an opportunity to affirm someone who might be feeling unnoticed.
“2B? NT2B?=???” is a text version of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy. Dot Mobile, a company offering mobile phones to students, has hired a professor of English Literature to offer subscribers text message summaries of literary classics and quotations from them. The climax of Romeo and Juliet is that “bothLuvrs kill Emselves,” while Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice concludes when “Evry1GtsMaryd.”
Such summaries may well convey factual information about what happens in these well-known works of literature. But they don’t capture their full emotional force. For this you need proper words.
When the fourth gospel describes Jesus as the Word, its writer was perhaps recognizing a similar truth. Every previous experience of God had been a summary compared with the truth and wonder of his coming in the flesh. The Hebrew experience of God had been varied, often very personal and almost always powerful. Yet those who knew Jesus felt that everything that came before was only a pale reflection of the God now fully revealed in him.
The truth of what we celebrate tomorrow is almost impossible to put into words. It’s a day when we remember that even God recognised their inadequacy and decided that his presence among us would say more effectively what needed to be said. Words remain enormously valuable as a way of communicating but as far as our understanding of God is concerned, we’d be a great deal worse off if the Word had never become flesh.
Read: The Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth (John 1.14)
Rejoice: that God chose to give us his whole self
Reflect: Do my words always accurately reflect who I am?
Remember: as with God’s expressing of himself, so with mine: actions speak louder than words.
Resolve: to look for an opportunity which feels safe to reveal a bit more of myself to someone I love.
It took less than 10 minutes for Kubwa the elephant to deliver her 200-pound baby boy. But, though a month early, it had been 21 months since staff at Indianapolis Zoo had artificially inseminated her. “Many elephants take days to deliver their offspring,” said a Zoo spokeswoman. “He’s just adorable. There’s nothing like a baby elephant.”
Staff waiting for the great day were taken aback at how quickly it was all over. “But now our part begins,” said the spokeswoman. The calf quickly learned to stand on a step stool to reach his unusually tall mother’s udders and Kubwa formed an immediate strong bond with the baby. But the attentiveness and care of the zoo keepers was also crucial in those early days of the elephant’s potential lifespan of 50-60 years.
The coming of Jesus was over in a flash when compared with the centuries God had used to prepare people for the moment. But the coming of the baby was not the end of the story. Continuing attentiveness and care from people like us is needed if the potential let loose in that stable for a better world is to be realised.
What we celebrate today was a pivotal point in the life of the world. God offers us partnership in the task of creating a world of peace and justice for everyone. His coming to us initiates a momentum which each Christmas is a chance to re-establish. Let’s hope today that that crucial moment in the stable is one which increasingly we and all people respond to. Working closely with God, there’s no knowing where, through many years and over centuries, it might lead.
Read: When the time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4.4)
Rejoice: in the inspiration that Christ’s birth has been over two millennia.
Reflect: What can I do to make a reality the ‘peace on earth’ of which the angels sang?
Remember: that God’s been working in the world since time began and will continue to do so.
Resolve: to take seriously today and every day, God’s presence in the world and in my life.