It is a season when many feel the exuberance of the hunt. Finding that perfect gift or bargain becomes an end in itself. For others it is a time of fear and trepidation: the crowds, the expectations and the like weighing on them. Others still, remember a baby in a manger, three kings, a little lamb, and of course a little donkey.
The coming of the Christ-child becomes many things to many people, but its underlying message of Emmanuel is often lost. But the need of “God with us,” it is as important today as it was two thousand years ago.
Consumerism and the “hunt” underlies an emptiness which we feel needs filling. Fears and apprehensions – whether about the season, or racism, or Covid, or identity, etc. – still need the calming hand of God. It is also more than the trappings of a manger scene. That baby, whether accompanied by a lamb, little donkey, or panda bear (yes, I have seen one in a nativity play) was the ultimate gift of God’s own presence to a troubled human-kind. He came to redeem and comfort, to gift, and to be gifted.
Oh, come Emmanuel! Come and be the fulfilment of our sense of “missing something.” Come into our fears and anxieties and gently wipe them away. Come into our consciences and not just our decorations. Come Lord, into our lives.
When I was small, I mean really small, there were two copper plagues in my bedroom. They had pressed into the metal the image of a little child praying. The one, with the child on their knees at their bedside, had the bedtime prayer on it:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
And if I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my souls to take.
The other, as I remember it, had the child facing in the opposite direction with their hands folded at a table. It bore the words of a mealtime prayer:
God is great, God is good.
Now we thank Him for our food.
These simple child-like prayers say so much. They express everything that needs to be said, and with an innocence that is so powerful. I have since then studied theology to the highest levels. I have been in full time ministry, and now teach theology. I have a highly developed theological vocabulary, and can argue apologetics until the cows come home. But it is the simplicity of these, my earliest prayers that still speak to my heart.
Jesus challenged us to be like little children. And it is that raw, pure faith of a child that we should all strive to be returning to. Does that mean we shouldn’t be “mature” in our faith? Of course not. But, what it does require, is for us to explore exactly what that maturity looks like. Maybe we might just find it on little copper plagues.
I had two very moving and very similar conversations earlier this week, one with a Black American woman and the other a White South African. They resonate in my heart, as they are not isolated. I had one almost identical with an African-American woman a couple of years ago as she prepared to return to the USA. Why moving? They are moving because these are godly women, wanting no more that what’s best for their families, safety for their children, and to be able to live their lives without being targeted just for the colour of their skin, or the perceived “otherness” prescribed on them by others. Each is in my prayers, and each needs to be stood up and protected by those of us who have the means.
The Guardian/Observer Group published an article today in which it was reported that the Covid-19 outbreak has led to an increase in the number of British adults turning their attention to matters spiritual. According to a survey a quarter of adults have logged into online worship services, and twenty percent have “begun to pray.”
This is to the backdrop of a 15% drop in attendance in the Church of England in the past decade. Various sources have noted that in 2018, 11% of the UK population attended church, and only 2 – 5% in the C of E (2018 Statistics For Mission). Yet, today’s article shows that “One in five of those who have tuned into services in the past few weeks say they have never gone to church.”
Many of us have prayed for revival. I am not suggesting that the dreadful disease is the “answer to our prayers,” but rather that it is giving we people of faith an opportunity to spread the word of God.
Let us continue in our prayers. First of all for the health and safety of society. We also need to pray for the recovery of the sick, and the comforting hand of God for those who mourn. But we should also hold up the lives and souls of those who are joining us in our online devotions, and that the seeds that we are sowing there will be as those of that fall “on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:8).”
One of my wife’s last public postings as prefaced with I Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In that posting she made mention that I was beginning phased retirement and that we would have some extra time together. It was extra time, bit all too brief as she passed two weeks later. But the message resonates for me. Joy! yes, I am sad at her leaving, but I have joy over her destination. But returning to her post she wrote:
“Much as we appreciate your prayers for me, especially as my condition continues to change so fast, I have a lot of spare time at home, so would ask you also to share your prayer needs with me too, so I can pray for you.”
“Pray without ceasing,” give thanksgiving in all things. I am thankful that she was in my life. I am thankful that she did not suffer. I am thankful she was and is at peace. But even more so I am thankful for her example. She wanted to use her time of unceasing prayer to lift up the needs of others.
Accordingly, I ask that just as she did, if anyone reading this has prayer needs – please let me know. I, and Dianne before me, do not need details, only an indication that there is a need. I don’t want to pry into anyone’s life, nor create a “talking point.” God will know what the need is – I just need to know to lift it up.
Pray for me too my friends. I am still getting used to this “new normal,” and I above all want to remain strong. Your prayers will help me to be so.