Have you recently had the privilege of visiting a new-born baby? The very wording of that question suggests that if you have, then it was the ‘new-born’ who was the focus of your attention. It is reasonable to assume that visiting a new-born, would also bring you into contact and relationship with at least one other person, whether that be a parent or some other carer.
But there is usually no mistaking who is the centre of attention.
Very recently I enjoyed visiting the home of some members of our church family, who have become first-time parents. During the time I spent with Mum and baby, we chatted about a range of different topics, from holiday destinations, to home-improvements to football. But whatever the conversation I don’t think we ever took our eyes off the star of the show – 30 day old Lola (pictured)! And when conversation lapsed, we simply looked. We gazed at this little one, so newly arrived in our world and yet whose tiny presence has changed the world of those around her. She was our focus.
New parents will also often comment on how the birth of a child and their experience of becoming Mummy or Daddy has altered their perspective upon life. It seems that without preparation or expectation the way they see themselves; the way they see their wider circle of family and relationships; the way they see the wider world, and their hopes and fears for the future, shifts.
In a few weeks’ time we shall, most of us, be caught up in the keeping of Christmas – whatever that may entail in our own homes and families. At the heart of the event from which our own celebrations take their name was the arrival of a child – the birth of the Christ-child.
One of the church’s traditions here in Manston, as in many other churches, is the Crib Service (or should I say the Crib Services) which draw the crowds. Babies, children, teenagers, adults, parents & grandparents – and all the relationships in between – are drawn back to the telling of the story of the child born in a stable, laid in manger, announced by angels and visited by shepherds. As the younger members of our community carry and accompany the crib figures up the church’s red carpet to the bare stable, the eyes of all ages are focussed on the making of that scene and upon its central character – the baby. Once the scene is complete our eyes are drawn to focus once again. This time they focus upon the light which, after being placed alongside the Christ-child, is then shared amongst the whole gathering of people. Babies, children, teenagers, adults, parents, grandparents – and all the relationships in between – hold their candles, and their eyes shine as they receive and gaze upon the gift of light.
That is just one of the opportunities this Christmas to allow our hearts and lives to be re-focussed. It is an opportunity to allow, the way we see ourselves (the things we are proud of and things we are less than proud of), the way we see those around us (the ones we love and the ones we find difficult to love), and the way we see the wider world (our hopes and fears for its future and for our place within it) to shift. It is an opportunity for us to see things in a new light.
It is an opportunity and an invitation to gaze upon the child who is God, and to know that God gazes upon us – and loves us. Carolyn – Vicar