john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    The elusive force for good is with us

    Good Shepherd Morning Prayer
    28/12/2008


    1 Corinthians 1.26-29, Psalm 124, Matthew 2.13-18

    Click picture or here [1]
    for enlarged pictures of Jesus, Lydia and Ophelia








    A Peruvian woman called Virgen Maria, who is married to a carpenter, has named her son Jesus Emanuel after giving birth on Christmas Day.
    Twenty-year-old Virgen Maria Huarcaya Palomino had not been due to give birth on Thursday, but went into labour early and underwent a Caesarean operation.
    Her husband, who shares the same profession as Saint Joseph, is in fact called Adolfo Jorge Huaman.
    He said the couple had been planning to name their son after a football player.
    "But thanks to a happy coincidence this is how things ended up," he said.
    Baby Jesus was born at 0220 local time (0720 GMT) on 25 December at the National Perinatal Institute in Lima and weighed 3.32kg.
    His mother said: "I am so happy to give birth on such a special date. I didn't think that my baby was going to be born today and now that I have him in my arms I am very happy."
    Virgen Maria means Virgin Mary in English. She told local television that her grandfather, a devotee of the Virgin Mary, had chosen her own unusual name, with which, until now, she had not felt comfortable.
    "In school they made fun of my name," she said. [2]
    God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
    Of all the lovely pictures I've been sent by friends this Christmas, one stands out above them all. It is a photograph of little Lydia, the daughter of two friends of mine, wearing a pink carnation in her hair and a pink party hat which says on it, HAPPY SECOND BIRTHDAY. Her mum leans over her holding a cake, and two gentle twists of smoke are rising from the candles which Lydia's mum has just blown out.

    One of the special things about this picture is that Lydia has reached the age of two. Because from before she was born her parents knew that she had Aicardi syndrome, a condition which means that an important part of her brain is missing; and every day of her life Lydia has suffered from many terrible seizures and spasms. Always struggling for breath Lydia is a very vulnerable little girl and eighteen months ago I was helping her mum and dad to plan her funeral because they thought it was imminent. But she's still with us and this month Lydia completed her first term at nursery school.

    Her mum recently wrote to say that, 'We are so proud of our little girl as she battles on through one challenge after another... she is indeed a fighter. But it's her serenity, poise and self-possession that we really covet. She seems to have an intuitive grasp that she is being held by God.'
    God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
    She is a nine-year-old schoolgirl from Gosport. But from December 6, Ophelia Wells has been the 'bishop' of a small patch of the diocese of Portsmouth.

    St John's Church in Forton has revived a medieval custom of electing a 'child bishop' to take charge of the parish for most of December. Ophelia preached the sermon on December 7, made up rules for her congregation to follow and planned the Sunday service to be held today, on December 28.

    And she visited the bishop at his home to present him with a scroll, decreeing that he would have no jurisdiction over the parish of St John's from December 6-28.

    The vicar of St John's, the Rev Carrie Thompson, said: "In medieval times, they used to invert the whole organisation of the Church in cathedrals and parish churches from St Nicholas' Day (December 6) onwards.

    "The youngest chorister would became 'bishop', the bishop and canons of the cathedral would swop places with them, and the children were allowed to make the rules. It's the first time we've done it at St John's."

    And Ophelia said: "My mummy will have to do what she's told when I'm in charge. And I'm going to make a rule that children will get a turn to ring our church bell." Another of Bishop Ophelia's rules is that if you attend Church two weeks in a row, you can have a glass of wine.

    Her robes, cope and mitre were made for her by her grandmother, Freda Wells. And she even has her own crozier - the staff that bishops carry with them when visiting parish churches.

    The tradition for child bishops has been revived recently in some English cathedrals and churches, and it echoes the Christian teaching about hierarchies - Jesus taught that children were the most important people in the Kingdom of God. Child bishops have been elected in recent years in Winchester, Salisbury, Hereford and Wellingborough.

    'Bishop Ophelia' preached on Sunday December 7 from a passage in Isaiah that prophesies that the smallest and the humblest will become the most important in God's kingdom.

    And today she and the other children at St John's Church will be in charge of the whole service and choose the hymns. [3]
    God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
    Herod understood this perfectly. That is why he set out to destroy Jesus, the baby who at his birth people were already calling the King of the Jews. Herod didn't dismiss this strange story told to him by three odd visitors from the east. He knew God better than to do that. He believed that 'God chooses what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.' And fearful that he himself would be reduced to nothing by this new child-king, Herod set about destroying him. By killing all the new-born baby boys in his kingdom.

    It is this sort of fear which makes kings and presidents and military men do just the same sort of thing today. They know that there is a force for good in the world which will turn things upside-down if it gets a chance, which will transfer power to the powerless and give dignity to the despised. A force for good which will lift up the little ones, feed the starving ones, enrich the poorest ones. A force for good which will strip the kings and presidents and military men of their wealth and power.

    This is why in 2008 we have looked back with horror at the suffering and death of the children of Rwanda, Iraq, Sudan, Gaza and other places where rulers have tried to hold on to their positions by resorting to the most primitive forces of violence. In the hope that by doing so they would eliminate that elusive force for good.
    [But] God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
    The good news is that that elusive force for good is still at loose in the world. Picture Mary and Joseph carrying the baby Jesus over the Egyptian border, furtively, by night, living an anonymous life for a few years until they heard that vicious king Herod had died. Imagine that little child still with us today - quietly, furtively, living alongside us.

    Lydia, Jesus Emmanuel and Bishop Ophelia hint to us that this is true. That for all the trouble in the world today that elusive force for good is with us. And will always be with us, blessing, disturbing and bringing great joy to those who never expected it and need it most.
    If the Lord himself had not been on our side
    Our enemies would have swallowed us alive;
    But blessed be the Lord
    Who has not given us up.
    Our help is in the name of the Lord
    Who has made heaven and earth.

    Notes

    [1] Pictures of Jesus, Lydia and Ophelia here
    [2] BBC News: Peru Christmas baby named Jesus
    [3] Portsmouth Diocese news: Girl bishop takes over at Gosport church (edit)