It has been a year of comings and goings in my family. Just before Easter, we welcomed a new granddaughter into our family. Baby Verity was born on the Tuesday in Holy Week. What a gift she is! Karen and I fell in love with her immediately and spend every moment we can with her. Each visit reveals great change as she explores the new world into which she was born. There are so many firsts – first smile, first time rolling over, first laugh, first sitting up. Of course, she is absolutely reliant on her parents for everything in her life. She could not survive without them, and to watch the bond between parent and child is an awesome thing. It always amazes me that the smallest person in a room captivates the attention of everyone and turns rational, articulate, reserved adults into maniacs making funny faces and uttering weird sounds, all to attract the attention of this new being.
In September, we brought Verity to church to baptize her and mark her as Christ’s own forever. In her baptism, as in all baptisms, she participated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Out of crucifixion comes resurrection, out of death comes new life. In her baptism, as in all baptisms, God gave her the gift of membership into a wider Christian family. As Archbishop Rowan Williams is fond of saying, baptism brings you into the neighbourhood of other Christians.
In his recent book, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Archbishop Williams notes that the New Testament is very clear that being with Jesus is to be in the neighbourhood of other Christians. At every baptism, the gathered Christian community vows to do all in its power to support those who have just been baptized into their Christian journey. As an aside, I invite you to reflect on exactly how you live out that vow. So Verity is now a part of the great Christian family.
Three weeks before Verity’s baptism, our family gathered to celebrate the remarkable gift of life of Karen’s father. He had been ill for some time and died with courage and grace in the face of some very difficult health challenges. He was very clear he was ready to die; he wanted to die and was frustrated that he could not die. He shared with the family, who were by his side holding his hand as he breathed his last, that he had made his peace with God and prayed that God would receive him into life eternal. On what would be his last best day of health, he met his great-granddaughter at the hospital. What a precious moment that proved to be for all of our family. Birth and death. The cycle of life continues.
In a few days we will celebrate Christmas, the annual reminder of the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Many of us will celebrate with family and friends, enjoy good times and create new memories.
Jesus, God Incarnate, was born into a family. He was utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph to provide for his every need. It is amazing to reflect on the fact that God in Jesus was utterly dependent on his human parents for his very survival. The Divine relied on the human! Jesus would be raised in a family – a family of faith – and would be schooled in the Jewish traditions. He would learn to pray and to participate in the worship of God. In his family, he learned what mattered and reflected that in his adult life.
Christmas has become a kind of once-a-year “time out” in the midst of frenetically busy lives, to tend to those whom we can so easily take for granted. We live remarkably full and busy lives while complaining that we don’t have the time to do the things we want and be with the people we wish to be with. Life has a way of being taken for granted, as does the gift of family and our relationship with God. Often it takes a shock, either good or bad, to jolt us into reflection on what really matters. Family matters. Faith matters. Relationship matters.
I hope that Christmas will be a time for us to be very present to what truly matters in life – present to friends and family, present to the Christian community, present to the needs of others and, above all, present to God in Jesus Christ. May Christmas be a time to refocus and seek the balance in life for which many yearn. May it be a time for great thanksgiving for God`s gift of the cycle of life.
One final thought. At Christmas, God bent down and kissed the world with God’s love, expressed most fully in Jesus. God loves you unconditionally. God loves you, and told you so in the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
My observation is that while we love others deeply, some of us are reluctant to tell those closest to us that we love them. A bishop friend of mine in the United States is famous for telling everyone that he meets – and I do mean everyone – that he loves them. When he ends a phone conversation, a meeting, an interview or a social gathering, he tells each person, “I love you.” When I queried him about that practice, he said, “Well Phil, God has told us to love God, love others and love ourselves. I am just following what I have been asked to do.”
“I love you” are among the three most important words we can say. May I encourage you to tell someone you love that you love them, using your words and not just your actions. Saying “I love you” matters. At Christmas, God says that to us. Now whom do you need to tell that to this Christmas?