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 Seventeen: The Legacy We Long For

Psalm 125
2 Kings 2:9-22
Acts 3:17-4:4

One of the most sobering realisations for me as a parent is that I’m leaving my greatest legacy behind right now in the way I influence my children, for bad or for good.

How I pray and make time for God,
speak to my husband,
respond to authority,
encourage responsibility for household tasks,
spend my money,
articulate my values,
behave in a crowded parking lot,
admit my struggles and weaknesses,
say I’m sorry …

… it all has a monumental impact on
the adults that they are growing into,
the relationships that they will pursue,
and they way in which they, in turn, will raise their children.

Legacy. It’s not as much about what we leave when we die, as it is what we instil in the world around us while we are living.

And that impact, though small or seemingly insignificant at the time, can be passed down from generation to generation to generation.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the powerful prophet, Elijah, is asked by his younger travelling companion, Elisha, for a “double portion” of his spirit as an inheritance when Elijah is taken away by the Lord (verse 9). He is asking, in essence, for the blessings and privileges of an eldest son: permission to carry on Elijah’s ministry.

In his reply, Elijah indicates that he has no right or power to give God’s gift to someone else, but he knows that should Elisha witness his ascension into heaven, it would be a sign that God had, indeed, passed the prophet’s mantle on to this young man (verse 10).

“Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Elisha asks, striking the river Jordan with Elijah’s fallen cloak.

“Resting on Elisha,” the water replies with its parting (verse 14).

“Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” the people of Jericho ask as they point to the foul spring water that is poisoning their land.

“Resting on Elisha,” the water replies as it is purified by salt and a powerful proclamation of healing which holds true even to this day (verses 21-22).

Likewise, the words of the apostle Peter on trial before the ruling council for performing an act of healing outside the temple are about choosing the legacy that they long for.

On the one hand is the legacy of ignorance through which they disowned and killed the author of life; on the other, the legacy of prophets and of the covenant that God had made with their forefathers: to be a blessing to all people by turning from their wicked ways (verses 17 and 25-26).

We, too, are heirs of the prophets; recipients of an ancient and eternal covenant with a Holy and Mighty God who will, one day, restore everything to order.

The choice, too, is ours: to shroud ourself in blissful ignorance, or to take up a prophetic mantle and become agents of liberation and healing in this generation and the next and the next ….

Today, if possible, throw a few pebbles into a pond and watch how far the ripples reach ….

Reflect on yourself as a pebble cast out into the centre of your family, your community, your country, your world.

What is the legacy you are leaving? What is the legacy that you long to leave?

The Promises of Parenthood

In Ephesians 3:14-21 we see that the family – as an ideal – is an expression of God’s great love for us, and a means by which we grow in the knowledge and understanding and experience of how wide and long and deep and high that love is.

As God is community – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – so God gives us community that we may never have to walk alone through the trials and turmoil of life; that there may be a place, a space, where we are truly and intimately known; that there may be for each of us an opportunity to experience an unconditional love which gives us a tiny glimpse at the face of a God who lived and died and rose for love that we might live life to its fullest.

The reality is that in many homes these days, horrific things happen. They are places of hurt and heartache rather than the safe haven that God intended because we have forgotten to root our family lives in the example and foundation of God’s love for us and to treat each member of our families as a sacred, precious gift to us.

And so moments where Christian parents profess their desire to raise their children in homes established by God’s love are particularly solemn occasions as profound promises are made:

Will you take Jessie to your home
and cherish her in the morning,
guide her in the noontime,
comfort her in the evening?
Will you show her the earth and all her blessings,
The kindliness of her Maker,
The grace of the Spirit upon each thing,
And the benefits of Christ’s healing Gospel?
So when she comes to leave your house to travel her own path
She may trust in the generous clasp of God’s own hands
And walk with God until her days’ end
And know her final dwelling place as her home from home?
With the help of God, we will.

(Promises written by Tess Ward)