Extraordinary ordinary Christmas

Shadows dance on the stable wall, leaping and receding with the flickering flame. The man, candle held high, draws his wife close. Together they gaze adoringly at the soft new face, the puzzled eyes blinking slowly, uncomprehendingly, at the first perception of light. Banished are the memories of the frantic, fruitless search; the desperate plea, “Even your stable will do.”; the hastily spread blanket to soften the straw; the contractions, the rush of water and blood; the first cry; trembling, unfamiliar masculine fingers tying the cord, severing the afterbirth, wrapping the child. For now, there is wonder. Wonder at the miracle of that first breath, at perfect little fingers and toes bending, straightening, trying out this new world.

Humanity at its most poignant, most vulnerable, most heart-warming.

Yet hardly earth-shattering. Not to the passer-by.

So much to overwhelm, with the census. So much to engage the crowded dusty streets for: Accommodation, provisions, registration. No time for a second glance at the new family. History is made at Caesar’s census booths, not in a stable.

Yet heaven holds its breath, angels gaze in awe, the scene reverberates through the cosmos and history tilts upward as He, who once hurled galaxies, lies helpless in a mother’s arms.  The extraordinary wrapped in the ordinary.

How often God wraps the extraordinary in the ordinary:

The leader of God’s nation hidden in a stammering old refugee.

A king clothed as a shepherd boy.

The very Word of God enclosed in personal letters from prison.

Angels entertained as strangers. (Hebrews 13:2)

Creator of all He spoke to; of all that now shone upon him from the heavens; of all that nourished and preserved his family, packaged as a carpenter’s son.

And now, recreated beings in the wrapping of ordinary citizens; Creator’s children; God-bearing vessels; channels of His very Spirit mingling unnoticed with the ordinary. Yet extraordinary. (2 Cor 5:17, 1Cor 3:16)

God, give me eyes that look beyond the wrapping.

Beyond the cantankerous old woman to the bearer of Your word to me for today.

Beyond the brash young boy to Your sonnet, scripted exclusively at the dawn of time. (Eph. 2:10)

Beyond the criminal, the patient, the hungry beggar to an entrance to Your heart — treasures hiding in the world’s trash. (Matt. 25:37-40)

And beyond the stumbling, imperfect church to a glowing, resplendent Bride treasured and transformed by her majestic Groom of Glory.  (Eph.5:25-27)

Making Christmas Real

God gave His Son that all the world
Would have the chance to be with Him.
His glorious presence now was curled
Within the confines of a womb.

His gift to Man took history
And pulled its course away from Hell
Unfathomable mystery
A love that has no parallel.

And now we celebrate His gift
With presents under Christmas trees
With parties, dinners, Christmas cheer
And reunited families

Yet often in this crazy world
We give our gifts, not knowing why.
We break the bank to buy the best
We worry it won’t satisfy.

We party with our families
We eat and drink and stay up late
But if in this we exclude Him
There’s nothing left to celebrate.

It all becomes an empty show
That merely gets us deep in debt
And all the feasting and the hype
Can’t heal our pain, nor our regrets.

For though we share our human love
Forget our woes with food and wine
Our loneliness requires a heart
That’s grateful for a love divine.

We need to know a God who cares
Who wants us all to worship Him
To celebrate the way He’s made
To rescue us from all our sin.

If we party,  give our gifts
Ignoring Him who’s paid the way
Then ‘Happy Christmas’ is just words
Whose meaning fades with Boxing Day

For always when we celebrate
A God who came to be with us
The next act hovers in the wings
A Saviour hanging from a Cross.

It’s not His birth that gives us joy
But why He came — what it was for
That’s why we’re grateful, celebrate
The Baby on a bed of straw

So ‘midst the joy and family fun
Remember God with arms stretched wide
It was for us that He was born
It was for us He bled and died.
As Jesus entered Planet Earth
So give Him entrance to your feast
Let all the laughter and the mirth
Be ‘cos you’re from your sins released.

My Upcoming Book

front-copy-red

When Jason Langley, MD arrives at a rural hospital to do his community service, a new witchdoctor (sangoma) has moved into the village and children in the hospital are dying unexpectedly . Is he using his black magic to kill these children? Or can there be a more rational explanation? As Jason applies his medical skills and an inquisitive mind, he enters a world of intrigue and danger as he pits himself against dark forces of evil.

 

Abundant Grace (It is well with my soul)

Golden light on dew-kissed roses

Heralding the grace of day

Cooing doves, at morn’s awakening

Dusty hooves of foals at play

Wheat fields, like a tawny ocean

Rippling with the wind’s caress

Dancing streams, their spray asparkle

Pensive pools in quiet rest

Air perfumed with scent of jasmine

Wind chime’s soft melodious ring

Dappled earth through filtered sunlight

Gamb’lling lambs at start of spring

Miracle of baby’s birthing

Brand new breath, a lusty cry

Old man resting, children’s chatter

Puff balls in a dreamy sky

Cells and segments of an orange

Neatly packed with tasty bliss

Warm embrace of two young lovers

Tenderness of mother’s kiss

These and countless other blessings

Are bestowed on us each day

Pointing us to God’s compassion

Showing us His love-filled way.

He surrounds us with His beauty

Fills our souls with untold wealth

Lifting them from deep depression

Into happiness and health.

Yet His greatest gift of goodness

Starts its journey steeped in death

Wounded Saviour hanging, dripping

Blood for us with His last breath

Cursed that He might buy our healing

‘Tombed to fight for all our souls

Breaking forth in glorious vict’ry

Empty grave, and men made whole

What a song our hearts are singing

Let the church bells toll and toll

Jesus is our Lord and Saviour

‘Tis indeed well with my soul

Easter Story

Wild-eyed and dishevelled, he roamed the streets and alleys peering in the doorways, tearing at his hair, distraught and distracted.
“I’m looking for Love. I’ve lost it. Has it left? Is it hiding? Has it gone forever? ”

Hedon looked over his tankard and gave a snigger. “Still looking, old man? No luck yet? Try the whore house. There’s plenty will love you there, for a fee.”

“Oh, help me, help me please. I’m looking for Love. I’ve lost my love. Has the whole world grown cold?” His hands shook, causing his matted locks to tremble around his face as he staggered on.

“Come in here, wild man, and learn from me.” A fat man in a business suit sat at a table. A girl sat on his lap; men hovered, fawning around him. Money bags littered the table. “Make your fortune and the world will love you. Look at you, penniless old beggar. Who will love you like that?”

A haunting wail left the old man’s lips. “Oh-oh-oh-oh, the pain. Who will help me? Who can lead me to Love?”

A pretty young lady, barefoot, in a flowing gown and with flowers in her hair, sauntered up to him. She put a flower in his bedraggled mane and kissed him playfully on the nose. “You don’t need to look for love. You are love. Love is the god in you. He lives in each of us. Just let it out and you’ll find Love.

The old man threw himself on the floor, beating the ground. “Will no-one tell me where to find Love? Love has deserted us. The world is cold.”

“Come with me, old hermit.” A tall man with a kind face and a long pony tail pulled him to his feet. “I’ll show you where to find it.” He took him to the country and showed him flowing mountain streams, a pure white lily, snow covered peaks, a soaring eagle. “Look,” he said, “at the beauty that surrounds you. In that beauty you’ll find Love.”

“I see it,” the old man cried, his voice sobbing in despair, “but it’s remote; it’s distant. I don’t feel it. I can’t find it. I’ve lost it in the coldness of men’s hearts.” He hid his face in his hands and his body shook.

For a long time he sat there, shaking. Then a small voice said, “Why are you crying mister?” A little girl stood beside him. As she laid her hand on his shoulder, a glimmer of light touched his soul.

“I’ve lost Love. It’s left this dark world and no-one can find it.”

“I’ll take you to it.” The pure innocence of her voice made him rise. “Come,” she said, “we must climb a hill to find Love.”

“What is your name?”

She smiled sweetly. “My name is Grace. I’m the one who takes people to Love.” She was thoughtful beyond her years as they trudged upward. “I must warn you, love is costly.”

“I have no money.”

It won’t cost you, but it comes at great price.”

“Then who will pay?”

At that moment they crested the hill and he stopped in his tracks. At his feet was a man so disfigured he scarcely looked human. Blood oozed and congealed on lacerated flesh; rivulets of scarlet trickled from his brow down a swollen, bruised face.
The girl pointed, her voice trembling. “He will.”

The battered man lay on a cross. A bleeding hand was outstretched, a nail poised at its wrist.
“No!’ the old man cried, “Stop. Who did this?”

Grace looked at him steadily. “You did…… He’s paying the price for your love.”

“No. No. Don’t do it. I’m not worth this.” His eyes were wide, his mouth contorted.

“He thinks you are.” The hammer struck the nail. Sinews and nerves split as the man convulsed in pain.
Bewildered, the old man cried out, “This is love? This ugliness? This horror?”

Then realisation struck. He’s doing it for me. His face shone with light and a warm peace flooded his soul. “Yes,” he said, “this is true love. Love for me. True beauty in the midst of all this gore.”

Tenderly, he laid his shaggy head on the torn, bleeding breast, weeping with the love that filled his heart.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us..” 1 John 3:16

Not That Way

Pam's Perambulation

Not that way Lord,
surely not that way.

I thought following you
was going to make life easier,
simpler,
better,
more blessings
and goodness,
how my life will be better
and problems will disappear.

But now you tell me
I have to think of others,
of their needs,
that it’s not all about me,
what I can get from you,
all the amazing things you’ll give me.

It’s about giving,
loving,
going beyond,
doing what you would do,

and that is going to cost

and not everyone will like it,
or the consequences of going your way.

Following you is not the easy way,
but it is the good way,
the right way,
your way.
It can be the way of rejection and pain,
but it is the way of life
truly lived.

So may I take the cross,
your cross
and follow you

Mark 8:31-38 (CEV)

Jesus Speaks about His…

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Lessons from Apartheid. Will we learn?

At a recent class reunion here in South Africa, we were reminiscing about the bad apartheid days in Medical School. It is difficult to imagine, today, the evil conditions under which those not privileged to be clothed in a white skin had to suffer.

Labelled negatively as “non-white” automatically implied that in some ways they were incomplete persons. No “non-white’ medical student could teach a White person, or examine a White patient. They were not even permitted to attend a post mortem on a White corpse! When possible the hospitals were separate for the different races. At the very least the patients were segregated in different wards.
When, in a “breakthrough” created by a critical shortage of nurses, Black nurses were permitted to be trained, they were not allowed to attend to White patients or have a White nurse as a subordinate.

At our reunion, one of our graduates, (now a highly skilled Paediatric Intensivist), remarked that, while much of the apartheid was legislated, it was all too easy for us Whites to allow ourselves to be shaped by the culture of the day when we should have resisted. As an example of how one could insist on justice even within a society of legislated injustice, he honoured Chris Barnard. When the genius surgeon operated on babies with congenital heart defects, he nursed them all in one small postoperative Intensive Care ward irrespective of their race. The relatives of these little children mixed freely as they visited their beloved offspring in that little ward. When the authorities objected, he threatened to stop operating. Nothing further was said and the status quo remained.

I concurred. When the Pietermaritzburg Craniofacial Unit started performing complex operations on children with gross facial deformities, it proved impossible for us to move from hospital to hospital (depending on the race of the patient) with all my complex anaesthetic equipment and with all the surgical instruments required. We quickly obtained permission for them all to be done at St Anne’s — a so-called White hospital. There were ways of opposing the system and letting justice prevail.

As we reminisced, 20 years down the line, there were conflicting emotions among those present. I’m sure many of us had twinges of conscience about things left unsaid or undone. The pervading sentiment, however, was a satisfaction– almost bordering on self-righteousness — that that particular evil is no longer with us.

Yet there is an evil that plagues us right now — not only in South Africa — every bit as foul as apartheid, with the same diabolical modus operandi.

Apartheid made a certain population group non-persons. Labelling them “non-whites” gave licence to “Whites” to treat them inhumanly. Today, another population group is labelled “non-person”, giving carte blanche to “”persons” to slaughter its members in their hundreds of thousands, and tens of millions. Like the Blacks and other “non-whites” who had to succumb to the selfish whims of the privileged powerful and have their lives destroyed because of their skin colour, the members of this group are declared non-persons simply by virtue, not of their skin colour, but of their location.

Nurtured in what was created to be the sheltering dark warmth of their mother’s womb, they are betrayed by the rulers of the land and by the very ones from whom they gain succour, to be torn violently from their place of safety and “terminated”.

Can we, who said, over 20 years ago in the midst of apartheid, “I know it’s wrong, but it’s the law, so what can I do?” and who now have to live with a conscience seared by passivity in the face of evil, repeat history? What will be said of us 20 years from now? What will our conscience say to us then, when the world agrees with what every scientist will confirm today — that these little miracles are truly human?

Let’s prove that we have learned from the dark apartheid years and speak out against the same injustice in veiled form.