Food for the Road 13: First

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2:6-7

I’m the first born child in my family: reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, and achieving.

I received both the blessing of being the centre of my parents’ universe for the couple of years before my brother arrived and the not-so-blessing of being the one on which they practised their parenting skills.

I distinctly remember mandatory bedtimes, star charts and chore wheels, strict adherence to age restrictions on computer games and movies (especially when I was going out with friends), and a fervent interest in my education – a.k.a homework and study time – that seemed far less rigorously applied to my siblings …

… while the burdens on me as the eldest to set a good example and take charge (though I think it was probably phrased more as “look after your brothers”) while my parents weren’t home multiplied.

Being firstborn had more implications for Jesus than the influence of birth order on human personality: in his Jewish background, it entitled him to a double inheritance and also signified that he was predestined to serve as a priest unless “redeemed” (see Numbers 3:45-47).

As Mary wrapped her firstborn in cloths and laid him in the manger, I wonder if expectations and entitlements were on her mind; or if she was simply lost in awe at the sight, the sound, the smell of he who embodied a new beginning – both for her and Joseph as “learner” parents and for the whole world that seemed blissfully unaware of and unprepared for the miracle in their midst.

What “firsts” may the future hold for you as your love for Mary’s firstborn grows?

Day Twenty: Heroes

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
2 Samuel 6:12-19
Hebrews 1:5-14

One of the questions that I’ve most enjoyed asking young people – both within church and school settings – over the years is to identify their heroes. The answers always follow the same pattern:
a few joking proclamations of “I’m Batman” or Wonderwoman or even Spongebob Squarepants (often accompanied by the theme song which gets stuck in my head for days);
followed by the names of a few famous people like Beyonce or Tyra Banks (or anyone who has recently won Idols);
followed by a few “right-sounding” answers – Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Maya Angelou –
and then there’s an awkward silence and a shifting in the seats until some brave soul blurts out,
“my mom,”
“my gran,”
“my best friend,”

followed by a long and breathless explanation as to why someone so ordinary counts as a hero ….

And suddenly everyone has a name to offer, a story to tell, about an every-day, ordinary, real-life hero whose faith or love or sacrifice or integrity or perseverance in the face of unbelievable adversity has inspired them and made a permanent impression on that young person’s life.

King David was a great hero to Ethan the Ezrahite, and, indeed, to the whole nation of Israel.

Psalm 89 is a song of remembrance:
of his special calling and anointing,
his prowess in battle,
his servant heart,
his close walk with God;
of the glory days of the kingdom
which should have endured forever in accordance with God’s promises –
‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations’ (verse 4).

Yet we know of at least one person who most certainly was not a fan: Michal, the daughter of Saul who “despised him in her heart” as she witnessed his triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the ark of the covenant, leaping and dancing before the Lord in a linen ephod (2 Samuel 6:14-16).

The reason for her contempt – besides the obvious hatred for the man who had succeeded her father – was this symbolic act of exchanging his kingly garments for a dress worn even by the young servants of a priest’s family; an undignified declaration that though he was Israel’s anointed king, he was one of the people and a simple servant of God.

In a similar fashion, Christ, in clothing himself in fragile human form, reveals that he is one of us and a servant of the Father.

Yet, as God brings his firstborn into the world, he proclaims that even the angels must worship him:
for his throne will last forever
and he will rule with fairness;
when the earth and skies he once fashioned are worn out,
still he will remain –
the same –
in his love of good and his loathing of evil
(Hebrews 1:5-14).

The reason why heroes are so important is that they inspire us to become heroes ourselves. They influence our values, set us goals to aspire to, and – in the way that they have transformed the world for us – invite us to consider how we will transform the world for others.

As we move ever closer to Christmas and welcome the firstborn of the Father into the world, I wonder what his example teaches us to aspire to.

Today, reflect on the role models and heroes that have been present in your life. 

Give thanks to God for their example and influence.

Consider how you may be a hero of the faith in the coming year.