The Christmas card I particularly like is the one depicting Mary and the infant Jesus, especially, when Mary is pictured to a young teenager.
Amazing! God entrusting his Son to one so young, so inexperienced. It isn’t that I don’t think how vulnerable Jesus became by becoming a human being. I do, often. But this picture of the teenager and her tiny infant, so different from the usual stylised Madonnas that appear on our Xmas cards brings me up with a start. It brings home to me in a new way the risks that Jesus was exposed to. It speaks very powerfully of love and trust.
Maybe it is because I am getting on. Perhaps less keen on taking risks myself. Whatever. What shook me was the sheer wonder of this simple scene. As Charles Wesley exclaimed, ‘Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.’ Just imagine. Think of the risks God took by becoming a human being. What would have happened if Mary had died in child birth. Think of this tiny infant, exposed to all the risks we are exposed to. Think how the holy family had to flee for their lives to Egypt.
Why did the Son of God make himself to vulnerable? There is only one possible answer. He did it out of love us. Love is not only vulnerable. It is wholly unconditional. It disregards everything in the way of security and influence. It asks for no warranty or guarantee.
This infant and his mother’s precariousness, their silent judgment on my carefully-calculated way of living is what I need to hear!
What impresses me most of all is the part played by trust. We are often reminded of the need for trust. We depend on trust in all sorts of ways. But we are only too well aware to our cost that trust is a casualty of our contemporary, sophisticated life. In big business, human greed results in exploitation of the powerless, with the consequent collapse in the system. And there is the erosion of trust ín political life. The late Jo Cox, the MP, bless her, was concerned about what she called the loss of a ‘moral compass.’ Think how our trust was misplaced in the referendum that resulted in the miserable Brexít business. Think too of the crisis of trust in the church over the wretched paedophile affair. And I don’t have to tell you of the ways in which trust is betrayed in human relationships.
But would you believe it. In spite of everything God still trusts us!
Usually we think of our trusting God. Much less often of how God trusts us. The Xmas story could not be clearer. It’s all about God trusting human agents. What happened in the incarnation is an example of the way God works. He doesn’t come to us vertically, so to speak. He approaches us horizontally. He works in and through human agents Through people like you and me,.
God trusts us to be faithful in whatever role we find ourselves, in whatever it is he entrusts to us.
This is emphasized in the parables of Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel (25.14ff) it is the parable of the talents. In Luke (19.11ff) it is money entrusted to employees. The ones who invested the money and made a handsome profit were rewarded. The one who was afraid to take the risk wrapped up the money and put it safely away. He very likely expected praise for his prudence. In fact, he was charged with a breach of trust. He had defrauded his boss of the interest his money could have earned. He tried to defend himself, but to no avail.
Trust involves risk. God is prepared to take the risk of entrusting things to us, responsibility, advantages or inheritance. Whatever it is. God does us the honour of entrusting it to us.
Let us pray that we will be faithful in the use of what God entrusts to us.
Now back to my Xmas card. As I say, it speaks of the way God trusts us. But it says something else. It speaks of our need to trust God. Mary and Joseph certainly did that. Think how they were threatened by the wicked Herod and had to flee to Egypt. Think too of Jesus. He trusted his heavenly Father when he was tempted to take shortcuts. How in his dreadful suffering on the cross he trusted God.
Of course trust needs to be backed up by belief. Whether its a case of trusting someone or trusting God. Especially believing God is Emmanuel. Trusting Jesus’ saving work for us on the cross. Believing his resurrection is our hope.
What Xmas is all about is God Emmanuel – God with us. God is not like the person I heard about. He arrived on the scene of a road accident. He whipped out his phone. Dialled 999. Called the police and an ambulance. Then he sped off.
God stays with us,. He will not leave us whatever is happening to us.. This is said very emphatically in one of the best-loved parts of the Bible’ , the 23rd Psalm. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear of evil, for you are with me.’ The words are usually understood to refer to God’s help when we come to die. They refer of course to that. What could be more important. But they also refers to trust in God in other dark experiences. I’m sure you have proved that yourself.
I think of Jan, who quite suddenly and unexpectedly found herself in the valley of the shadow of death when her husband Stephen died. He had been student of mine at the college. Here is what Jan said to me. ‘ I am going through a roller coaster of emotions … but I am helped to face whatever has been thrown at me. Since the moment I heard Stephen had collapsed I felt God closely by my side, as if I was not having to face the tragic situation on my own. In other words, Jan experienced God to be God Emmanuel. She proved the truth of what the Psalmist says about walking through the valley of the shadow of death .
Let us keep trusting and keep praying that we will know God as Emmanuel.
A HAPPY NEW YEAR
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of another year
we dedicate ourselves again to your service
we reaffirm our commitment to you
and to all those who depend on us.
For each new challenge give us enthusiasm
for each new venture give us courage
for each new blessing give us thanksgiving.
We pray for those who are fearful of the future, those anxious about their health or the health of their loved ones, for those coping with disappointment and loss.
And we pray for those who look forward with hope and anticipation, those who have much for which they can give thanks, those who have no great worries about their health or welfare that they will keep counting their blessings and go out of their way to help those less fortunate.
We give thanks for God Emmanuel, God with us this year.
for this makes all the difference.
Hear our prayer for our country in these uncertain times.
Give guidance to our Prime Minister, and her cabinet and government as they work their way through the complex Brexit arrangements.
Help all who carry great responsibilities on our behalf,
all who are working to alert us to the dangers of climate change.
We pray for all who serve in the NHS,
all who find time to help others.
Loving God, thank you for another year added to our lives.
Help us to welcome each day with thankfulness and praise.
Go with us Lord,
so that renewed in trust,
in love and in hope we may live and work for you, your grateful and joyful servants
This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.