I have two daughters, amazing gifts from God. Hannah is twelve, Ellie is ten (today)! They are a constant delight (and occasionally, challenge)! The gift of children though, is not just for me and my wife to enjoy. Our children have doting grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, godparents etc. Children are a gift to the community of faith as well as to parents.
As we journey through advent with our children we have been creating our Jesse Tree. Each image hung on our sticks and twine tree represents another momentous milestone in God’s rescue plan.
Until, with our final image of a star on the 24th, we gather expectantly in Bethlehem. We know nothing more after the nativity accounts in the gospels about the shepherds but, what was a private journey for a couple to a place where there was no room has become a journey that we are all invited to take, 2000 years later.
Those shepherds were amongst the lowest in their society – they would have been considered unclean because of their work, unable to worship in the temple (yet, here they are worshipping Christ the King) unable to bear witness in court because they were thought so unreliable (yet, here they are shouting the news around Bethlehem).
I’ve also, honestly, never thought of this until just now as I type this – but, if Joseph was heading back to the home of his family – he was from the line of David, so it had to be Bethlehem – what of his extended family? It would make sense to seek them out . . . MAYBE (huge maybe) they were alone and having to deal with these amazing events on their own because his family didn’t want this – in their eyes perhaps – embarrassing “situation” on their doorstep.
There is an old African proverb,
It takes a village to raise a child
In the same way, it takes the community of faith to help children grow – to feel that they belong as part of that community, and the faith expressed and shared becomes their faith too. This activity, spiritual formation, preparation for life etc – is not the preserve of a couple of over burdened volunteers, nor an “expert” salaried children’s worker – though those involved in ministry with children create an invaluable “dynamic” for life and faith in Church that compliment the role of parents.
Maybe though, we need to flip that,
It takes a child to raise a village
Jurgen Moltmann writes this,
“The messiah can be born in every child.” says a Jewish proverb, and Christians celebrate Christmas as the feast of the birth of the divine redeemer in the baby in the manger. We encounter the all-powerful God in a little, dependent, and helpless child. The creator of heaven and earth divests God-self and becomes lowly in the “Christ child” or the so-called “baby-Jesus.” The grand theology of the ancient church called this mystery the humanisation of god” or the “Incarnation of the logos.” but it begins very simply, in a manner intelligible to every child, by God becoming a child and in this childs redemptive reign of peace. What a mystery a child is. As Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me”.
“Child and Childhood as Metaphors of Hope”, Jurgen Moltmann
Will we orientate ourselves this Christmas time, as Moltmann puts it, “towards the child of promise and peace?” This is an invitation to all, not just parents, not just those of faith – all are welcome, all can wonder, all can bear witness afresh to what God is doing through Jesus.