– A Christmas Meditation –
Through a series of recent mishaps my fingers got cut. First, I cleared out the sink and did the dishes. I wiped a glass, not realizing it had fallen into the sink and the rim was chipped. I cut across one of my fingers. I’ve healed up nicely but should probably have had stitches. I have several other scars testifying to similar experiences over the years.
Other minor accidents with a broken window, a plumbing repair and a string whipped through my fingers meant that for a few days my right hand was a mess of Bandaids (Plasters for the British reader). The cuts are mostly healed now, but for a moment I was reminded of the inconvenience of wounds. Mobility is affected. Water causes the Bandaids to come off. Simply dealing with everyday life causes the dressings to deteriorate.
Throughout history, men and women seem destined to bruise and bloody their hands in work. Lamech, named his son, the Biblical Noah, saying: He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.[i] Thousands of years later a baby was born, destined to reverse that curse. But before that could happen, his hands also had to suffer.
As I think about the coming of the Son of Heaven, the baby born to be Lord of all, I have been contemplating the ways in which His hands suffered. Those which were pure, sinless, and unaffected by the cares of this world, chose to become servants of all. Hands, trained at the carpenter’s bench, became victims of cuts and bruises, splinters and sprains. Hands, offered in healing, were muddied by an earthy salve for a blind man’s eyes, and risked the infection of leprosy and other skin diseases. The hands of heaven engaged with the world, breaking bread and fish to feed a crowd, raising up a little girl from death, washing the dirty feet of disciples, and breaking Passover bread to bless them all. These same hands were then broken and crushed, nailed cruelly upon the crucifier’s cross. In the words of worship leader Graham Kendrick: Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered.[ii]
We all know how painful a blister on the heel can be after a long walk. A friend of mine must take care when walking. His diabetes means that blisters on his feet do not heal easily. Jesus and his disciples walked everywhere. I am sure there were times when their feet were rubbed raw. Jesus’ feet took him all over Judaea, Samaria and Galilee so that he could preach the good news. They were feet that were protected only by leather sandals as he walked the rudimentary roads of his day, covered with dirt, dung and the general detritus of life. As those earthy feet neared the end of his earthly life, he chose to wash, not his own, but the feet of all his disciples; feet covered with grimy, hard calluses. And then, at last, His feet also had to suffer, broken and crushed upon the cross.
We all know how essential hands and feet are to our daily lives. As Christ gave His hands and feet to the selfless work of the Kingdom so Christians throughout the ages have consecrated the members of their bodies to His service. In the 19th century words of the Welsh hymn writer, Frances Havergal: Take my hands and let them move, at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee[iii] and those of Mary James, a leader in the Wesleyan Holiness movement in the United States: Let my hands perform His bidding; Let my feet run in His ways.[iv]
As we celebrate the coming of the Christ, many of us in the Christian community are reminded that there are still many who have never heard of His coming. Christians also look forward to the second coming of the Christ, often oblivious that free access to Good News in many of our worlds, is absent in the worlds of others.
Around the globe, Christmas worship includes versions of an old negro spiritual with the injunction to Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. Yet many mountains are the most inaccessible places for the gospel. Thousands of communities of people, unreached by the gospel, live in mountainous, desert and forested regions. They have never heard the good news of Jesus’ first coming. Other communities where there is no church are found in our cities, among migrant communities and refugees.
In 1941 Robert Jaffray reflected upon the words of Isaiah[v] when, from a life-time of gospel service among hill tribes of Borneo, he wrote: One day it will all be finished and the weary feet, all scarred, bleeding and sore, will cross the last mountain and tread the last trail, reach the last tribe and win the last soul. Then He Himself will exclaim, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! How beautiful the feet that have brought good tidings and proclaimed salvation to perishing souls.’ Then indeed it will be true that our Christ reigns over all the world, over every nation. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Him.[vi]
As Christ came into the world, willing to suffer, so we all are called to lay aside comfort and be bent to His Will so that the world may know the Good News. In the words of Amy Carmichael, another missionary: No wound? No scar? Yet, as the Master shall the servant be, and pierced are the feet that follow Me. But thine are whole; can he have followed far Who has no wound nor scar?[vii]
As we remember Bethlehem and receive the Christ again this Christmas-time, let us be renewed in our commitment that every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess Him Lord indeed. Let us be renewed in our commitment that among every unreached people the dear Christ shall enter in.
[i] Gen 5:29
[ii] The Servant King – Graham Kendrick, © 1983
[iii] Take My Life and Let it Be – Frances Ridley Havergal, 1874
[iv] All for Jesus, All for Jesus – Mary Dagworthy James, 1871
[v] How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news. Isaiah 52:7
[vi] Report to the New York office of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1941 – Dr. Robert Jaffray – Quoted in Cannibal Valley, Russell Hitt, 1962 Christian Publications, Harrisburg, PA, p.49
[vii] Scars – Quoted from “Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael” – 1999, CLC