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
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