PostScript: Connected through love
The unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ is no respecter of social status, and our love should reflect God’s love (John 15.1-8).
This week has seen the birth of a son to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate. Their family, friends and admirers are united in joy and celebration. Many of the global and domestic topics that were dominating the news headlines just a few days ago have given way – however fleetingly – to photographs, congratulatory messages and expressions of goodwill. There is every reason to hope and believe that the new baby is already surrounded by the love and care that will sustain him throughout his upbringing and on into adult life. He is still far too young to have done anything to earn this love – if indeed love can be earned – but the very fact of his existence and his presence among us is more than enough to evoke an outpouring of love, even from people who have never met him or his family.
In this week’s Gospel reading, John the Evangelist expounds Jesus’ teaching about love and connectedness, using the image of the vine: God is the source of all love; God’s love is revealed in Jesus himself, and we can remain united with God through our union with Jesus. In the reading from 1 John, the writer goes further, asserting that God is not only ‘loving’, but ‘love’ itself.
Compared with the offspring of many other animals, human babies are extraordinarily dependent and defenceless, and deserving of nothing but love and care from their families and communities. The Gospel tells us that Jesus, the King of kings, was born in impoverished circumstances; but neither his divine status nor his humble birth should affect the welcome we afford him at every Christmas celebration. Our Christmas love and joy should be the model for our response to every birth.
Whatever our opinions and feelings about the UK’s hereditary monarchy – whether we are monarchists or republicans – in a properly ordered society, the birth of a baby should always be an occasion for joy and celebration. Babies do not choose their parents, and it is both groundless and pointless to resent any perceived privilege that may accompany the circumstances of their births.
It is, however, quite proper to pray and work for a more equal and just society, in which the gap between rich and poor is much narrower, and opportunities for nurture and flourishing are more readily available to all, irrespective of birth; but such inequalities should not and must not inhibit our welcoming of a new baby – any new baby – into the world.
Jesus lived and died so that everyone might be redeemed from the consequences of our sins: not least our covetousness, envy and greed. John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus does not compel but invites us to remain united with him, and through him with the God who is love, just as the branches are united with and nourished by the vine. Only by opening ourselves to the love of God in Christ, and allowing that love to flow through us into the lives of others, whatever their circumstances, will we advance the Kingdom goals of justice and equality.
Heavenly Father, we pray for all your children, and especially for new-born babies, and the families and communities into which they are born. Through our union with you as branches of the true vine, Jesus Christ, may your love flow into the lives of rich and poor alike, and may we work for your Kingdom of justice and equality. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
- In what circumstances might babies be at risk of being denied the love and care that all babies need and deserve?
- What is being done, in our own communities and across the world, to try to ensure that all babies are born into situations of love and care?
- How might we support local or global initiatives to guarantee safe childbirth and secure childcare?
Invite Church members, not least children, to share the feelings they have experienced at the birth of a new baby, whether as family members (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), godparents or friends. Ask them to think about how their feelings are expressions of the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ, and our calling as Jesus’ disciples to share God’s love with others.
You may also like to think about the baptism of babies (if this is part of your tradition), and how baptism, its rituals and traditions, expresses the love of God, the Church, and the parents and godparents for the baby.
Ask very young children how they feel about babies – you may get some interesting responses!
If available, show pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby.
Invite them to suggest and draw presents they would like to give the baby.
Invite younger children to write or draw (on paper hearts or other suitable symbols) things that a baby needs. These might be things that meet physical needs – such as a cradle, clothes, milk or warmth – or things that meet emotional needs – such as family, cuddles, parental bonding or a sense of safety and security. Explain that God wants every baby to have these things.
Invite teenagers to suggest ways in which we might show God’s love and care to babies born in less-than-ideal circumstances, such as situations of poverty (e.g. homelessness/temporary accommodation), natural disaster (earthquakes, floods) or conflict (refugee camps).
Discuss stories or images of parents, foster parents, medical staff or aid workers (select as appropriate) showing love to babies in their care.
The Revd Robert Beard is a freelance writer, and Pastoral Adviser with St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Sheffield.
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