WMC: December 2016
A belly-button saviour — preached by Revd Keith Underhill on 24th December 2016
I recall a sometime ago now , having an in-depth conversation with one of my former colleagues, the Revd Neil Lambert, an Anglican minister from Ash, who looked after the Circuit Fresh Expression at The Chapel.
Every Circuit needs a Neil — someone who has at least 23 new and exciting ideas before breakfast each and every day — someone who has dreams and can catch a vision for the future.
Anyhow, Neil was telling me about a church trip he had taken earlier in the year to Nigeria. The thing that struck me the most however, was what he had to do to apply for a visa, and the rigmarole he had to go through.
He had to get a visa in order to prove his identity and to prove to the authorities that he was Neil and that when going through passport control in Lagos; he would be identified as and be known as, Neil Lambert.
When filling out his visa application form, Neil had to give his full name. That was easy enough and we know how important our names are.
We might not like them, we might wish our parents had been wiser or chosen differently, but our names help to say who we are and to identify us.
Of course, names in Africa are often given not because they are liked, or because they are the popular ones, but because of other factors, such as what the name actually means, or the day of the week you were born on.
In the Bible, we often see not only the person's name being used but also the name of their father, to make sure that everyone knows exactly who it is that they are talking about — so for example, Isaiah in the opening verse of the first chapter of his book, is referred to as Isaiah, son of Amoz.
As we wait for the coming of Christmas once more, we are reminded that the name Immanuel, means God with us and that the birth of the Christ Child signifies that and tells us that in the dirt and the poverty of the manger, God silently and almost un-noticed, slipped into our lives and shared our common humanity — that he lived our lives and showed us that we are no longer alone and that God had not given us up or abandoned us, that we are his daughters and sons and that he loves us so very much.
The other name along with Immanuel that we remember this time of year is Jesus. It is the Greek derivation of the Hebrew "Yeshua" or "Joshua" which means "Yahweh saves" or "The Lord saves."
So in the meaning of the baby's name we find both his mission and his purpose.
Neil's visa application also asked for information about any scars that he might have.
Many of us here this evening will have scars, reminders of operations or accidents that we have undergone or that have befallen us.
I could if time allowed, show you the scar on my right elbow, following an accident that shattered it just days after getting married, much to the amusement of all who heard the news.
But of course, this question on the visa application form refers not to mishaps or medical emergencies but to the cultural practice of giving people facial scars, to help identify them and root them within their family.
A report a couple of years ago by CNN spoke of how this practice is still happening across Africa, although they are becoming increasingly restricted to people in the rural regions.
The CNN report described how in a dark room, the High Priestess used her ceremonial knife to cut two teardrop scars beneath her baby grandson's eyes. As the baby cried out, the marks ran red with blood. It took only a few moments, but scarred him for life.
In her small mud-brick home in southwest Nigeria, she performed the Yoruba tradition of giving tribal marks to the youngest member of her family.
"The tribal mark is to identify the family," she said. "Everyone in the family must have it."
Yoruba tribal scars have a variety of patterns and meanings. Most obviously, they appear as a series of cuts and lines across the face to identify a person's family and regional heritage.
Thinking about scars, we are reminded of the words from the prophet Isaiah in the 5th verse of his 53rd Chapter.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
When we think of Jesus and his scars, we automatically think of the scars of his passion — the nail prints in his hands and his feet and the wound to his side where the soldier pierced his body with a spear.
But there are others scar that marked Jesus' body that we need to note and ponder on this Christmas Eve.
The first is that performed on Jesus when he was just a week old, as mentioned in Luke 2:21 — when Jesus was both named and circumcised.
Circumcision is very important in the Old Testament; the cut for males, being a visible mark and sign of who they were of their own identity as well as being a sign of whom they worshiped and followed.
But of course, whilst Jesus came first to God's own people, the whole story around his birth, around Christmas itself, points to the truth that is revealed in his life, ministry and passion, resurrection and ascension — that he came for all people, he came for the whole world.
This universal truth is fully demonstrated by another scar of his, the one that everyone here has and shares in.
It is the umbilicus, the navel, the belly or tummy button, call it what you will, It is the scar on the abdomen where the umbilical cord was attached.
It is the scar that we all have, it is the scar that we all share, it is the scar of our common humanity and it was to all of humanity that Jesus came to be know and to save.
And of course, the body of the Christ child is marked also in other ways as well, wounded by the events of the world in which we live.
In recent days, His body has been marked and scarred by the violence in Aleppo and Berlin, as it has in, through and by every other conflict, act of war, or terrorist atrocity that has wrought death and carnage
It was the German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, who wrote the book "The Crucified God", stating that in our suffering, as in the suffering of Jesus on the cross, God does not passively look on as some kind of voyeuristic bystander, but is to be found in the midst of the pain and suffering.
Which takes us back to where we started — of Immanuel God with us, who through his scars as Jesus, saves us all, and saves you and me!
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