Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Good and Perfect Gift

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

Strange how silence can be so sweet at times, then so hollow and echoing with the voices of ones dearly missed... For three days, our home was filled with laughs, fun and moments rich with sharing. Our hearts expanded to take it all in and then overflowed at the time of parting. While the rain fell, our cabin burst at the seams with two busy children, a quartet of dogs and a cat, with four adults trying to catch up over the din of it all. But somehow a harmony filled the spaces and kept us all deeply contented. Each moment was relished, not knowing for how long the wide distance would stretch out between us before we would be together again. We "trekked" mud with us everywhere we went - after the deluges of the days before. But even the grey weather could not dampen or dull our bright times of sharing.

The last Arum lillies flank the slippery roads of our village, and everywhere generous sprays of yellow flowers from the wild St John's Wort stand proud of the rocky banks. The spicy fragrance of Impepho hangs in the air, it's densely hairy leaves and small yellow flowers covering broad parts of veldt. The word Imphepho means "to be sheltered, shielded or protected" and it is believed (sadly) that by burning bundles of it, people can connect with their ancestors... On the higher planes, crimson plates of Watsonias add their cheer to the Christmas season.

For me this is a time of opposites. Conflicting emotions. Poverty starkly staring at the feasting and reveling. Forgotten and lonely ones longing for a place to belong. A season to celebrate, but also a time of sadness for a world that does not acknowledge it as a time to remember the birth of the Son of God. Finding deep fulfilment in being part of a vast and pure Love, but feeling a sense of urgency for the ones lost outside it.

Amongst the preparations for visitors, buying presents, putting up decorations with little ones and finalising a rather tedious "blog book" process, I am reminded of this wondrous Love in surprising and delightful ways. A sense of peace has settled over me in a way that I am not quite able to understand. I have never done any serious mountain climbing, but I imagine it could be a similar feeling to when you reach a midway milestone and look back with a certain knowledge that if you've made it this far, you'll make it to the top. I cannot stop marveling at the work God has done in our family. Our times together are so precious, it feels fragile. But I know the bond to be strong, anchored in Christ and made new. As my husband wrote in my birthday card this year: "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows" (James 1:17).

Only once in all history was there a totally "perfect gift". At the birth of both our boys, I did not think that there could be a more good and perfect gift than those newborn babies. But I was wrong. A humble teenaged girl once gave birth also - just as the angel had told her: Her child would be the Son of the Most High and they were to call him Jesus. She pondered all these things in her heart, but how could she ever have known how dearly this perfect gift would cost her. I have the wonderful privilege of watching our boys grow up so carefree. Her child was found in the temple "about His father's business" at a time when other boys where scraping their knees and skimming trees. Her child was the Son of man, never truly hers. He was a gift to all humanity, but being chosen as the one to carry Him in her womb, was surely a blessing impossible to comprehend.

Giving birth is painful. No one has to be told this. But receiving new birth is the most beautiful thing that could ever happen to any human being. When the "Perfect Gift" came down from the Father of lights and surrendered the gift of His life to death on the cross, new birth was offered to us. Day after day it is held out to anyone who would reach out and take it, needing nothing in return but a open and repentant heart.

As I write, my boys come panting into the house, each armed with a large stick. Stuttering and out of breath they tell me of their adventures in the "hundred baker woods".(Meant to be Pooh's 100 acre wood I guess). I listen wide-eyed to the tales of dragons and Tinkerbells, wayfaring sailors and pirates and the eldest announces: "I am shy to go back there, I think there are witches..." I reassure him that his mama prays every morning for them to be protected, and with Jesus beside them on their adventures, they will be safe". To which the youngest one answers: "But you don't have to be scared, mama, I will be your brave nightmare"... 

We are all called to be brave, to be salt and light, to outshine the Christmas lights with Christ's glory and bring Joy rather than cheer to this season. For to us a child was born, to us a Son was given, and the government is on His shoulders. And he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace! (Isaiah 9:6)

Join the angel choir with voices lifted above the hollow sound of jingle bells: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." 

Give the King His rightful place in your heart this Christmas - it is a perfect gift we can give each other - and ourselves.