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December 2011
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vicar Small beginnings
By Revd David Burgess

When God wants to do something important in the world he has a baby.” The words of Joel Edwards, the director of Micah Challenge, a global campaign to mobilise Christians against poverty, in a recent Radio 4 “Thought for the Day”.

An obvious statement at first sight; every human life begins that way. But I know what he means. The lives of many of those who make a real difference in the Bible are recorded from infancy and Edwards makes the point that some of these (Moses and Samson are two examples) are born into conditions of slavery and oppression.

Going further, others are born miraculously, usually to women who can’t conceive or are well past child-bearing age – Isaac, Samuel and John the Baptist all fall into this category.

In Jesus’s case, both apply – a miraculous birth into a society dominated by an occupying power. A scandalous birth for two reasons – a birth to a couple who aren’t married yet (more shocking in Jesus’s day than our own) and a birth to a mother who might have been as young as fourteen (more shocking today).

Not a good start. But as we’ve seen with the examples above and other bible stories, we might care to think  God has a habit of bringing good out of adversity and world changing events out of small beginnings.

As many of you know I go out of my way to avoid Christian jargon and terminology. But there is one word that sums up my article. It’s ‘incarnation’. The terminology works here because any attempts to word it otherwise (‘enfleshment’, anyone?) are clumsy and inexact.

The word describes exactly what happened and what was started in the nine months prior to the first Christmas day. God has babies throughout the bible record, but the difference here is the core Christian belief that God came to earth as a baby and that makes a profound difference to the Christian story, to the story of God’s dealings with us and to the story of our lives.

This is so much the heart of the Christmas message that it’s tempting in our hearts and minds to let God’s baby, the baby who is God, lie where he is and not to allow him to grow up as a part of who we are and what we do. If we fall into that trap we end up as adults with a faith that’s immature and undeveloped.

Can I encourage all of us to make this Christmas the starting point, not the be-all and end-all, of our relationship with God?

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