Rumblings from the Pastor’s Study:
“Let our bodies be the stable./ Let our hearts be the manger./ Let our lives be like the Child’s/ with the blessing of the Father upon us/ as the Spirit goes before us/ and Jesus lives within us.” Adapted from a Prayer for the Christmas season by Richard Becher, taken from 600 Blessings and Prayers from Around the World, Twenty-Third Publications, 2000.
By the time you read these words in the December newsletter, both of our congregations will have had
elections for Elders and Deacons to serve for the upcoming three years. As those deacons and elders are installed into their offices at the end of December or the beginning of January, they will, whether newly ordained or returning to office after a previous ordination, be asked to take vows of office before the congregation and before God. Among those vows is the following: “Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?” And this is an important question, not only for elders and deacons, but for every member of the church—for every Christian believer, for the way we answer it shows a lot about the seriousness—the truth—of our faith.
The prayer printed at the head of this article sums up the idea quite well and is a fitting one for us to use in welcoming the upcoming seasons of Advent and Christmas. “Let our bodies be the stable—let our hearts be the manger,” the composer writes—“Let our lives be like the Child’s,” blessed by the Father and guided by the Spirit. This is truly an admirable and appropriate goal for us to set before our eyes and hearts as we enter into this time of preparation both for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the promise of His returning again. It is, indeed, or should be, the goal of each believer’s life not just at this time of year, but in all times—to become, as much as God can make us, more like Jesus, who is Himself the image of God.
So, what might this look like in practice—what possible signs might there be that such Spirit-led advances in Christian living—the theological term is “sanctification”—are taking place? Well, for one, there might be an increase in humility. One thing we are constantly aware of as we read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth is the lowly circumstances surrounding it. It didn’t take place in a palace, or even a fine home, but in a lean-to stable attached to a cottage where animals would be sheltered. Jesus rested in a cradle improvised from a feeding trough, with a mother and earthly father who would soon become refugees, those welcoming Him into the world being common shepherds, called from the fields to become the Child’s early witnesses.
Also, there is light—the light of God that surrounds this picture whenever we envision it or see it displayed in art. Light from angelic hosts brightens the sky, as does the light of a star in Matthew’s version of the story. Always the light of the Father surrounds the Child and glows from His face. And in that light, there is love—love so deep given to the world that it even resulted in God’s own Son coming into it among us. And that love and light—along with the care and kindness and graceful patience and openness to others it engenders in our own lives—are among the signs that a believer is becoming more like Jesus—more mature in faith, whether ordained or not, whether child or middle-aged or senior.
Later on in December we will probably sing, at some time or another, the fourth verse of the well-loved Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem: “O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray/ Cast out our sin and enter in/ Be born in us today.” May these words be more than words we sing—may they be a goal we set before us—a prayer that we pray—that God might let our bodies be His stable—our hearts be the manger—our lives be like His.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Steve