Crib fig­ures - take care

The Rt Revd Gra­ham James, Lord Bishop of Nor­wich, shares his thoughts on car­ing for in­fants and each other in this year’s Christ­mas mes­sage

EDP Norfolk - - Christmas Message -

A POEM writ­ten by a friend of mine, Ann Lewin, was in­spired by a no­tice she saw in a shop: “Crib fig­ures – take care”. The fig­ures, es­pe­cially the baby Je­sus, were brit­tle but at least the sign did not say “Do not touch”. New born chil­dren do not sur­vive if no adults touch them. What struck my friend was that the no­tice could have been an in­vi­ta­tion to take care of the fig­ures in the crib rather than keep away. The English lan­guage is won­der­fully flex­i­ble.

When I was a very young pri­est 40 years ago, well be­fore I was mar­ried and had chil­dren of my own, one of my anx­i­eties was about hold­ing ba­bies to bap­tise them. In my early 20s I had hardly ever held a baby. Sud­denly I found my­self fre­quently be­ing given ba­bies to hold and bap­tise with dozens, some­times even hun­dreds, of eyes upon me. My train­ing vicar said to me “Don’t hold the baby as if the child is go­ing to break. Ba­bies soon sense if you are ner­vous. Hold the baby firmly”. He was right, of course, though the great­est dif­fi­cul­ties were al­ways with the chil­dren who were 18 months old and didn’t want to be held at all, let alone have wa­ter poured over them. Older in­fants are ca­pa­ble of pack­ing a punch! Tak­ing care of in­fants re­quires stamina, firm­ness and imag­i­na­tion as well as ten­der­ness.

At the heart of the Christ­mas story is a new born child. There is scarcely a crea­ture in our world born more help­less than a hu­man baby. None of us would sur­vive if other hu­man be­ings had not cared for us in our first days, weeks and months of life. Je­sus was born quite in­ca­pable of doing any­thing for him­self to stay alive be­yond breath­ing on his own and feed­ing from his mother’s breast. “Crib fig­ures – take care” gets it right. With­out Mary’s care and Joseph’s pro­tec­tion there wasn’t much fu­ture for this child born in oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory away from home.

Why do we have chil­dren at all? While some peo­ple make a con­scious de­ci­sion not to do so, those of us who be­come par­ents of­ten do so in­stinc­tively. We don’t have chil­dren sim­ply in the hope of be­ing looked af­ter in our old age. Nor do we cal­cu­late the fi­nan­cial cost. The birth of our chil­dren is al­most al­ways the re­sult of an over­flow of love. It isn’t sim­ply a ra­tio­nal act, though there is rea­son in it since with­out the birth of chil­dren our world would not con­tinue. Be­cause of their chil­dren the vast ma­jor­ity of par­ents ex­pe­ri­ence more love as a re­sult. Most par­ents can­not help lov­ing their chil­dren or tak­ing care of them. Even in Syria, bom­barded on all sides, chil­dren con­tinue to be born – a sign of hope in the midst of dark­ness, a light in a bleak world. That’s what Christ­mas is all about.

Per­haps the most ex­traor­di­nary di­men­sion of the Christ­mas story is that God asks us to take care of him. He comes as an in­fant and places him­self in hu­man hands. The best way of tak­ing care of oth­ers is to in­vite them to care for you. “Crib fig­ures, take care”.

A very happy and car­ing Christ­mas to you all.

“The best way of tak­ing care of oth­ers is to in­vite them to care for you”

Lord Bishop of Nor­wich, the Rt Rev Gra­ham James

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