Advent is that season at the beginning of the Christian Year when traditionally the Church prepares itself for ‘Christmas’ or ‘Christ’s Mass’ – the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In this birth, we see God revealing himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. During this Advent Season we are seeking, in these Advent Blogs, to bring out certain aspects of the Advent Narrative, through a combination of story and Scripture to illustrate the wonderful truths to be found in the message of Advent. In this particular Advent Narrative we are thinking about the fact that the ‘Gospel’ really is ‘Good News’ … Good News for all … but Good News that needs to be ‘embodied’! We begin with an updated version of a story that we first read in the Reader’s Digest a good number of years ago.
Wallace Purling was nine years old but already a year or two behind the rest of the children in his school. Most people in the village knew that he ‘had difficulty keeping up’. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Some unkind kids at his school called him ‘a right Wally’ behind his back – never to his face because he was rather big. Wallace was well-liked by the majority of children, however, although some of the boys had difficulty hiding their irritation when he asked to join in their ball games. Often, they would contrive a way to keep him out, but Wallace would hang around anyway, just hoping that someone would want him on their team. Wallace was a helpful boy, happy and willing, the natural protector of the underdog. When the younger or smaller children felt threatened, or anyone felt lonely and needed someone to talk to, Wallace was the one they all went to.
When Christmas came around that year Wallace rather fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the School Nativity Play. The teacher in charge, however, assigned him a more important role. The Innkeeper did not have many lines, and Wallace’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful. The usual large audience gather for the yearly extravaganza.
Wallace Purling stood in the wings, watching with fascination, completely absorbed with the story. Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary, and knocked hard on a wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wallace swung the door open and stepped on to the stage. “What do you want?” Wallace the Innkeeper said brusquely. “We seek lodging” replied Joseph. “Seek it elsewhere!’ Wallace responding roughly, looking straight ahead, “The inn is full!” “Sir” replied Joseph, ‘we have asked everywhere in vain. We have travelled far and we are weary!” “There is no room in this Inn for you!” responded Wallace, managing to look stern. “Please, good Innkeeper” continued Joseph, “this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child. Surely you must have somewhere for her to rest. Even a corner in your stable would do?”
Now, for the first time, Wallace the Innkeeper, looked down at Mary, instead of simply looking straight ahead. There was a long pause – long enough to make the audience tense with embarrassment. “No! Go away!” whispered the prompter from the wings. “No! Go away!’ whispered Wallace, hesitantly, in response to the prompting. Joseph sadly placed his arm round Mary. Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder. And the two of them started to move away. Wallace stood in the doorway of the Inn, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears. And suddenly this Christmas Nativity became different from all others. “Don’t go, Joseph!” Wallace called out. “Bring Mary back!” Wallace Purling broke into a bright smile as the idea that had been slowly forming in his mind became clear. “You can have my room!” A few people thought that the Nativity Play had been ruined. Most considered it to have been the best Nativity Play they had ever seen!
At the heart of the Christian message is Good News! When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds 2,000+ years ago, they did so by saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). It is Good News because the Child born in Bethlehem’s Manger, all those years ago, was none other than ‘Immanuel – God with us’ (Matthew 1:23), ‘Jesus – because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21)! Good News because this same Jesus grew up to become a man who not only taught us God’s way but gave his life for us on Calvary’s Cross – ‘the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). Here is truth that can truly bring joy to the hearts of all because it is a message of ‘hope for the hopeless’ – especially for those of us who know that we can never be good enough to ‘earn’ our salvation. It also reveals a God who is not just ‘up there, out there, distant from us’ but One who has come among us in the Person of Jesus Christ. If we want to know what God is really like, all we need to do is look to Jesus!
This ‘Good News’ however, needs to ‘embodied’ by those of us who profess to be Christians.Those early disciples were nicknamed ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26) – ‘Christ’s ones’ or ‘ones like Christ’! And we who ‘name the Name of Christ’ today, like Wallace Purling, need to share the Good News of Jesus with smiles on our faces, an openness of heart to all and sundry … and maybe with a tear or two of compassion for the multitudes that seem to go through life, many of them broken and hurting, ignorant of this wonderful Good News to be found in Jesus! So, as we look soon to the New Year, may we, in Christ, more than ever before, be Good News for others!