A Father for Christmas

I was asked to give a talk to our toddlers recently. I get 5 or 10 minutes to share something of the real meaning of Christmas. Last time I focused on the kingship of Jesus. This time I looked at the way he brings us into a relationship with his Father. The theme that the group had been exploring over the last few weeks was angles and stars so I decided to do the story with helium balloons for the star and the angle and normal balloon for other people and props in the nativity. Here are my notes.

A long time ago people didn’t know God or at least they didn’t know how much he loved them. Some where even afraid of him because they had done things wrong and they knew God would be cross. They hid and felt alone in the big wide world. But God did love them and did something very special.

First he put something in the sky. You will have to help me here because my memory is not that good. Was it a big shiny sausage? (hold up long red balloon looking like a sausage!) Or a big shiny star?

It was a star! A star appeared in the sky. Who wants to have the star and who wants the sausage? Now the star was pointing to a special person.

Some wise men saw the star and followed it. Who wants to be wise men? There are your presents. There is something in them. If you blow them up you will find out what their presents were. I hope I have spelt them right!

Now, meanwhile, on a hill some Shepherd’s were watching over their sheep. Who wants to be a Shepherd…you’ll need some sheep.(give out white balloons with sheep faces and tails drawn on them).

Something appeared to them. Was it a banana or an angel? It was an angel. Who wants to have the angel and the banana? Oh and there is a brussel sprout here too! (green balloon with wavy lines drawn on it)

The angel told the wise men where a special person was.

So the wise men followed the star and the Shepherd’s followed the angle’s direction and they came to a stable. In that stable was Joseph and Mary.

Who wants to be Joseph? (I think he might have been a builder, so here is a saw). Who wants to be Marry? Now marry had the special person, a tinny baby called Jesus. (give Mary small balloon with baby face drawn on it).

Jesus was God’s son. God had sent his son into the world so that people could know God as their father their daddy. Their dad. Just like Jesus, God’s son knew God as his father.

And even today, because of what Jesus grew up and did people can come to know God as their loving heavenly father. No one needs to be afraid or alone any more. Here they are (throw out lots of smiley face balloon people).

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“He’s behind you!”

Recently I heard someone make the point that Jesus sometimes deliberately provokes us to call out to him. In Mark 10:46-52 Jesus is walking by and Blind Bartimaeus calls out to him for mercy. Most of the time in the gospels Jesus is responding to requests from people. Jesus tells the people who were previously telling Bartimaeus to shut up to call him over. Bartimaeus throws his cloak aside (someone made the insightful point that if he didn’t get healed he would have trouble finding it again ie already in anticipation of his healing he is casting aside his old way of life and living in the new) and comes to Jesus. Jesus then asks this blind man what he wants! Of course he wants to see but Jesus seems to want him to ask for it. The moment he clarifies his particular need Jesus says “Go, your faith has healed you!”. Bartimaeus had  faith to call, to come and to ask and so got healed.

I was reminded of (I know that expression sounds like the introduction to radio 4’s ‘thought for the day’ but I can’t think of another way of putting it) the time Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He didn’t reveal himself but let their hearts burn and drew out from them an invitation to stay with them. I love the way it says “Jesus acted as if he were going farther” (Luke 24:28). That’s almost cheeky isn’t it?! It’s like at a pantomime where one of the characters plays to the audience by pretending not to know that there is someone behind him. Their actions are designed to draw in and engage the watching children.  Each time he fains ignorance their cries of “he’s behind you” grow ever more earnest and ecstatic.

Jesus was also a little enigmatic when he first appeared to Mary at the tomb. He stands behind her and when she turns he asks “Why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for”. What kind of a question is that??? I know it may be reading too much into it but I am sure Jesus was really excited about this encounter. He’s holding back the moment of realization. Drawing it out. Savoring it even. I do that with my kids sometimes. I might hold a surprise behind my back for while before revealing it or say “Did I say I would give you a double chocolate biscuit? I don’t remember, are you sure?”. It’s like turning the handle on a Van de Graaff generator, building up the static charge, ready for it to spark when finally touched. When Mary mistakes him for the gardener and continues to look around, he doesn’t say “Hey, it’s me Jesus” he just says “Mary”. I can imagine him looking into her eyes for that precious moment of recognition. And then it comes “Rabbi!”.

And heres another one: When the disciples were struggling across a lake in a storm, Jesus walks out to them and “was about to pass them by” (Mark 6:48). They call out to him (of course!), he comes into the boat and the storm dies down. Why was he going to pass by? Did he have an urgent appointment in the middle of the lake? Was he fetching his frisbee from the waves? No. he wanted them to call out to him! That’s because he loves to draw out our faith. It utterly delights him! Our asking is like a champaign bottle being opened. The request pops out of our  mouths in an explosive flow of faith.

So many times in the bible we are encouraged to ask:

“You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it” John 14:14

“You do not have, because you do not ask” James 4:2

Especially in terms of the Holy Spirit.

“Ask and it will be given to you” Luke 11:9

“how much more will your father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” Luke 11:13

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (ESV) John 4:10

I wonder how many times Jesus is walking by and wanting me to call out to him. So many voices are trying to dissuade us from doing so but if our need is big enough and our confidence in Jesus is great enough we will break the sound barrier. I want to know more of the presence of Jesus and that means more of the Holy Spirit. My cry to God over the last few weeks has been “more Lord, more!” even in the midst of incredible blessing I want more.  God wants us to cry from the heart “come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20). I will call out to him when he comes near, recognise him when he says my name, watch for him walking past in the storm, and take note when my heart burns within me.

The nativity play

I went to Katie’s nativity play today and felt my eyes mist up as I watched her really enjoying playing the part of Mary. I couldn’t take my eyes of her or stop beaming back at her. I suspect she has no idea how much I love her and how delighted I am with her. Not delighted because she said her lines so well, nor because of her acting skills, but simply because I love her.

Does she know how much she is loved? I doubt it but it will protect her and provide for her, and each day strengthen her spirit and cause her to grow and flourish and thrive.

I really value these little glimpses you get as a parent into the love of God for us. He feels not just the same way about me as I do about my daughters but infinity more so. Purer and more enduring than I can imagine and completely independent of my “performance”. I do not, cannot know the extent of his love for me but I will flourish and grow in it.

I’m going to put on Jesus Culture again and enjoy God for a bit.

…And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all