Wrapped in strips of supple cloth, soft against his infant face, Jesus was protected from the harshness of the rough uneven straw mattressing his manger bed. Tiny limbs which might have flailed in fear with the loss of his cocooning home were held secure, and his tender skin was shielded, ushered into this dark world in love, held in Mary’s arms.
But this gentle kindness in which we are meant to be held is often missing in the world.
Sent out in his name we regularly feel the need of being sheltered in the rude awakenings and rough times we face whether or not we receive it from those around us. We awake from glorious journeys of faith-driven purpose to spurious words rejecting the whole counsel of God and feel the weight of dismissal being deemed either too much or not enough. We are shunned from embrace or perhaps afraid to express our vulnerability to those who may drop the ball of care. No, we don’t prefer to talk about it, but in many honest conversations, I have heard that I am not the only one who has noticed this.
‘Lord Jesus, surround each one for whom these words are ringing true.’
Sentiments slip from lips of opposition to genuine pastoral leadership and make interactions within the faith community more than uncomfortable. Yet, we must lead.
Stubborn pride establishes a grip in systemic patterns of dysfunction and dulls the vibrancy of future hope whenever sheets of accusations designed to conquer and divide become more pronounced around committee tables than blankets of grace announcing soft repentant hearts swaddled in cradles of blessing as children of God born in his Spirit. Relationships sour and negativity frames dour faces not particularly interested in growing up into the fullness of maturity in Christ. Yet, we must heed the call to set a different tone.
Whatever the degree of exposure to hardship or challenge he allows us to experience as we strive to present every person mature in Christ, we are comforted by the fact that we are ultimately held by him, his beloved child surrounded with a love stronger than death. Christmas reminds us of this and asks us to make it known through the concrete stories of his faithfulness in our lives where he settles into the waiting cradle of our prayers and new life comes.
His arms, once tucked away in vulnerability are now open wide to us in the majesty of his glorious reign sustaining us until he comes again. When we are in one of those tough places where we feel at risk of being eaten alive, marked for a cross and condemned to die, we remember that we are bound securely in the love of a heavenly Father who calls us by name and watches over us without wavering; bound by a Saviour whose strong limbs were once secured to roughly hewn posts of wood, his bronzed skin breaking under piercing whips wielded by soldiers, held there by an eternal choice so we could be held forevermore.
When quivering in the chill of harsh realities very aware of our child-like needs for protection and care, will we let him set us as he did the Christ in an open booth of his tabernacling presence under stars of fresh revelation to better discern his ways through the course of his call on our lives in order to become a deeper, more compassionate cradle for others?
As shepherds among his flock, our hearts are slowly being shaped as shelters for the communities we serve in which Christ has taken up residence in us, vessels of spiritual care ready to point others to Jesus in order to receive the gifts of God: fresh clean linens of righteousness and new beginnings in him, softly textured coverings of lingering care, lightly scented sheets of provision, and pillows of precious promises to soothe restless nights of struggle until rest comes.
When we provide a place for the warm hope of his name to be birthed by the Spirit wherever we serve, containers of committed love to hold the dynamics of painful circumstances around us waiting to be resolved to the glory of God with attentive anticipation for what is yet to be, we make visible our faith in him to fulfill each gentle and generous promise of coming shalom, counting it joy to suffer with and for him so new life might be ushered in.
May the advent of his love be placed in every upheld hand.
‘Dear Emmanuel, you are welcome at the very heart of who we are and what we do. Help us make room for your nativity in every situation needing and awaiting your birth within ourselves and within the contexts where we serve.
It is our desire to be securely wrapped in your holiness and bundled in joyful communion with yourself to share the good news of your presence to save, for it is here we experience the soft whispers of your Spirit tucked about our being strengthening us to face whatever comes in the knowledge that you are our true home.
Lord, we don’t want or need tougher skin to try and protect ourselves from fiery trials with human strategies. We want and need only you. Amen.’
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1: 4-6)