Christmas fast approaches and as I wander through the City streets, I am left pondering on the question of just how many people know who this Christ is that we celebrate with a frenzy of spending and eating and drinking and being merry. How much of the life of Jesus is known to the world beyond the cute nativity scenes played out in schools and churches across the land, where damp eyed parents adoringly watch their offspring place a fluffy lamb or a shiny gold present at the foot of a crib? Are they aware that this is the family forced to flee from their ‘plush’ stable because the security services were after them...that the babe lying in this manger is the same boy who ran away from home to hang out in the company of older men to try and learn a little more about life, God and himself terrifying his mother in the process....and the same man who lived at a time where troops from another country occupied his homeland and where corruption and injustice were a way of life... the same man that had this big religious experience, setting off with a rag-tag group of folk to try and persuade those he met to see with their own eyes what was really happening around them and to seek the way of God once more....the same man who upset local community leaders, particularly the older men he used to hang out with, and caused trouble where ever he went because he befriended the poor and the powerless, encouraging them to challenge the systems they were living under... the same man who caused riots and who was arrested and executed because he was a threat to national security. This babe lying in the manger would grow up and know what it was like to be homeless, lonely, and depressed...know what it was to take a beating, to be without food and the object of ridicule and hatred. But, he also would know that God loved him and because God loved him, he loved others. He loved others so much that it would cost him his life for fighting their corner. As Christians we all know this story well but I still meet those who are disciples of this babe, this man, this Christ child who are not quite able to bring themselves to believe that God loves them so madly, deeply that Jesus died fighting their corner too...those that cannot quite bring themselves to believe that there is nothing they must do to make God love them more, or, that there is nothing that they can do that will make God love them less.
I often say to people ‘I shall stick you on my prayer mat’ from time to time. This is not a passing platitude to bring a pastoral conversation to a neat end nor is it an idle threat! I actually do have a prayer mat – a gift from a Muslim friend in Bradford many years ago and it is similar to many prayer mats found in Mosques or Muslim homes all over the world. I do not actually kneel on it – mine is on the wall of my study and serves as a symbol and a reminder of the need to pray constantly and on it there are post-its with people’s names on or situations that I am holding before God in particular at that time, so when I say ‘I shall stick you on my prayer mat’ that is exactly what happens. Your name goes on a post-it and is stuck on the prayer mat. Each New Year’s Eve, I try to spend the evening in prayer, holding those people and situations that I have encountered over the past year before God, seeking out the times when I have felt God most present and also those times where I felt the presence of God least; giving thanks for those time of abundance and joy and also seeking forgiveness for those time where I have not responded well or behaved in such a way that causes me regret. I also try and pray for others, and my prayer this New Year will be that we can know afresh the deep, passionate love that God has for each one of us and that in turn, that love may release in us not only a love for other, but for ourselves too. So, how can I pray for you? What is it that you would like me to pray for? Drop me a line – it does not have to have your name on it if you would rather not – and let me know how I can pray for you and I shall stick you on my prayer mat.
‘In two thousand years, millions have followed the star, searched for the stable, discovered the newborn child...and yet, from generation to generation across the passing centuries, the joy never dies, the good news never loses its power to bring us to our knees in adoration...for each time a searching heart finds Christ the Saviour, the angels sing, heaven rejoices and Christmas, blessed Christmas come again.’ B.J. Hoff