Down to such a world as this

School photo day – we survived!

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Dull preparations such as hair-cutting and ironing were plodded through. The one school-branded jumper I had bought was located amongst the pile of plain ones. And thankfully, during the window of time between me dropping Freddie off at school and the photographer snapping away, my son did not get felt-tip pen on his clothing or face. (How do Year Ones do that?!)

Against all the odds we now have a decent photo to adorn the wall and to serve as a Christmas present for relatives. Phew!

Over recent days, as this photo has smiled out at me, I have been excited to be getting ready for Advent, the time in the church calendar when Christians prepare their hearts for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. One of the things I will be doing to prepare my heart is listening to recordings of carols sung by the choral scholars at Cambridge University (oh OK, I admit it, I have been known to listen to this album in the middle of July too!)

This year I have been particularly struck by the words of the nineteenth-century carol “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” – you can listen to it here. The writer of the lyrics, Edward Caswall, describes an amazing event found in the New Testament. God has appeared “on earth below”. “He who built the starry skies” is now lying in an animals’ feeding manger, a human child like the one in the photo above. This mind-boggling event should not surprise us, as it is something “promised from eternal years” (see the prophecies of the Old Testament – Isaiah 9:1-7, for example). God made a promise and kept it – a child is born. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Caswall comments:

“Sacred infant, all divine,

What a tender love was thine,

Thus to come from highest bliss

Down to such a world as this.”

Such a world as this.

The child in the school picture has been born into a scary world. Vile things happen to little children like him. I long to protect him. If I want to, I can paper over the cracks with Santa and tinsel, try to hide the nasties from him.

But I am grateful to have something truly earth-shattering to share with him. I am grateful that, although I am powerless to rescue my son from “the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1), I know the one who can.

Jesus Christ knows how imperfect this world is – because he stepped into it after we had messed it up. More than that, he stepped into a particularly grim part of it, born like many children as a refugee, homeless and unwelcome. The light of the world chose to step down into that darkness. “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

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Spiritual junk

I am a real horror for tidying up.

I don’t mean I don’t do it – that’s the problem. I wish I could be so relaxed! People who go to bed leaving a few papers lying about – I want to be like you. The trouble with me is an unhealthy degree of tidying. Everything has a place, and if it doesn’t, well, its membership of my orderly little household will be seriously questioned.

Being like this can have grave implications for relationships with those you share a living space with. I don’t think my husband (who is a normal person, not a weirdo like me!) will ever completely recover from the time when I recycled absolutely all the information relating to the purchase of his iPad. Especially not on the day it broke. And it’s sad that his penchant for storing vodka in the freezer didn’t survive my last rampant episode of defrosting (oops). My poor son has swiftly found out that it’s important to try and handle all your toys at least once every, ooh, five minutes or so, otherwise there’s a very real danger that they will be diverted to the charity shop down the road. I think I have mentioned before on this blog that his first word was ‘tidy’. Oh dear.

Such has been my desire to organise and clear out that I have even been known to buy things new again when it’s turned out that, er, actually, keeping them somewhere safe might not have been such a terrible idea after all. Suffice to say, I’m a pretty chronic case when it comes to tidiness!

But my spiritual life is different.

Sometimes, people who know what my house looks like seem to assume that my spiritual life must be the same. Well, yes, that’s understandable. If I’m prepared to spend a day clearing out the loft while pregnant, and can’t get to sleep knowing the washing-up hasn’t been done, then surely the same criteria must apply to my relationship with God?

Surely I must be the kind of Christian who starts each day by dedicating it to the Lord? Actually no, the first thing I usually do is look at my iPhone. 

The kind of Christian who draws comfort from his word? But first, I’ll draw comfort from the knowledge that the clean laundry has been neatly folded and put away.

Who instantly holds captive every thought that isn’t from him? Who lays down fears and worries at the foot of the cross – as I have a blood-bought right to do? No, I still turn over and over in my mind the image of my newborn baby being inexplicably taken away to an incubator while I remained on the ward with the other mothers and babies all night.

Why oh why do I clear out my loved ones’ belongings without clearing out my own spiritual junk?!

Now before we go any further I must point out that I’m very grateful for grace. If our salvation depended on following the rhythms of organised religion – churchgoing, Bible-reading, being part of a home group – what would be the point even trying?! I also want to point out that however hard we try we cannot change the past. Many readers will have experienced very dark things. But what we do have is a future.

For me, the past has been made much more manageable by my decision to join a church community (actually what has really made the past manageable has been my decision to place my hope in Jesus, but the two things happened at the same time!). One friend in particular within that church community, someone who has been following Jesus for about 30 years, talks a lot in our home group about getting rid of things that ‘get in the way’ of the abundant life Jesus offers. I think I am starting to see what she means and why it is so important to her. God gave us us the very best thing he had, his son, who died instead of us and then rose to life again. By the power of his spirit he speaks today, he heals today, and he wants to walk intimately with each of us. Even better, it works both ways. He loves us too much to let us cling onto our trash. He wants to give us a crown of beauty in exchange for our ashes – but we do need to give him the ashes first!

I am convinced that a time of clearing out rubbish is well overdue. But it’s not necessarily the bin bags of junk in the loft that require attention – and despite what I have told myself in the past, getting rid of them won’t make me feel better about any of my painful memories. Perhaps it’s actually the non-physical things that desperately need to be laid down so that we can just sit quietly at Jesus’ feet. Sit quietly enough that we’ll hear him whisper, ‘You don’t need that old baggage any more, sweetheart – give it to me.’ So that we can see, through an uncluttered lens, that we are ‘rooted and established in love’. That we don’t need to do anything to earn love. That as far as our creator is concerned, we are royalty. That we can be secure in that knowledge alone.

Beautiful feet

I’m over at the Besom in York today, blogging about good news (and my beautiful feet!). Why not come with me…

The Besom in York

carpet

This week Izzy Pysanczyn, one of our assessors, reflects on being able to share God’s grace.

I sat on a bench on the edge of a housing estate on a glorious autumn day and cast my eye over the assessment form in my hand. The person whose needs I was about to assess on behalf of the Besom in York had evidently not been having an easy time in life.

As soon as I walked through the door of their home it became apparent that all was not well. The living conditions were a major indicator of this, but more so was the fear and sorrow in the eyes of this potential recipient of help from the Besom. Two other support workers were present at the property, clearly very busy working through a morass of complex issues with the recipient. The recipient seemed suspicious of me, this new arrival. What bad…

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