To know ourselves loved and valued
Not much time this morning – I have a breakfast date with Santa as we take Kate and Tess to school. Grandad rule #1 – never be late for Santa. Mind you, we do have another opportunity tomorrow, at our Christmas Fair, when FC will take residence in our grotto, albeit just for an hour or so. Doors open at 2.00 pm, just in time for his arrival. The great thing about being a grandparent is that (once again) you see the whole Christmas experience through the excited eyes of a young child. There’s a sparkle, a sense of excited anticipation. Let’s jump up and down. And Jesus invites us to experience life as a young child. “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” (Luke 18:17). And more, he presents such a child as a role model for how we should live our lives. So Jesus calls a child, whom he sets among his ambitious disciples, and tells them: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 18:2) What is it about children which Jesus so admires? Something incidentally not part of his culture. Apparently in the time of Jesus children may have been loved by their parents but they held little status in the wider community. As one commentator observed, they were left on society's fringe until they were old enough to be useful. They do not as yet pay their way. But as ever Jesus turns our accepted values on their head. Instead of trying to get to the top, he tells us we should head for the bottom. After all, the disciples would have thought, who wants to be a child? Where’s the ambition in that? This last few weeks I have been involved as a member of the diocesan Vacancy in See committee in the working group compiling our contribution for the job spec for the new Bishop of Liverpool. We are clearly looking for a remarkable man with a whole variety of gifts and an outstanding persona. All this, of course, is important but we need to beware that we are not recruiting an Anglican CEO. Instead this ministry, as any ministry, needs a child beloved of God who knows he (still he, for the time being) is valued and cherished. Above all, someone who delights in his Father’s care, someone who is not taken in by the world’s offer of prestige. As for all of us, we each need to have a clear sense of our identity, who we are in Christ. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us,” writes the apostle John, “that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Even Jesus, at the very outset of his ministry, needed to be publicly affirmed by his Father. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). As ever the Message translation gives that extra tang: “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” Here is the very basic of the Christian life, that we know ourselves to be children of God, dearly loved and embraced by the one who made us. Now our sense of self-worth does not depend on status, power, wealth or talent but as our identity as a child of God.
And this is what the Holy Spirit does in the life of every disciple. He makes this a real day-to-day experience in our lives, whoever we are, whatever our background, wherever we may have been.
I’m sure that Nelson Mandela’s remarkable grace came from his experience of this grace of God. Just before he was elected South Africa's president, he gave a speech at a Christian church's Easter conference. After reading the Beatitudes he began by praising God for "the Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!" Typing quickly as the doorbell goes. The sound of excited voices JIT. Forgive any typos.