Days Of Inspiration
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me…he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1)
A colleague of mine at work has a three year old daughter. She’d been at a playgroup party and there and been a magician. She got home and was desperate to show her dad some magic. She got a paper towel and tore it into dozens of pieces and pushed them into her closed fist. Then she opened her fist and all the dozens of pieces of paper fell from her hand and she couldn’t understand why the paper hadn’t reassembled itself the way it had with the magician. Of course we, as adults know it’s just a conjuring trick and we know that magic isn’t real. Maybe we might take pride in being so much more knowing than a three year old child. And maybe we’re missing something. With the eyes of a child she had seen something wonderful and it had inspired her.
Isaiah says that the spirit of the Lord is upon him. He is inspired. He has seen - perhaps in a flash of insight - something wonderful. We can get in the way of thinking that when the prophets spoke they were in some kind of trance and that God was using them as some kind of dictaphone. I don’t think God does that with people. We can get the idea that the inspiration that fired the great heroes in the Bible involved some kind of miraculous vision. Sometimes, perhaps, it did. But get to think that way and you can get to think that the days of inspiration and long gone with the days of the prophets.
If you read the Prophets carefully, sometimes inspiration came from the most mundane things: from some broken pottery, from a failed marriage and - in the case of Isaiah - the political events of his times. While others, perhaps, saw something as mundane and ordinary as a simple conjuring trick, these guys saw something wonderful: something wonderful enough to fire them and fill them with enthusiasm. They saw that the ordinary, everyday experiences of life can speak to us of God.
We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. There are so many people missing so much by bombing up the motorway on their way to Glasgow or Edinburgh or to the Highlands. If they turned off and drive through the fields and hills of Dumfriesshire and Galloway I’m sure they’d find days of inspiration. If you don’t think that the ordinary things of land and water and sky can seem wonderful - if you don’t think they can speak of God - then there’s a lot of hymns you can’t have sung. The spirit of the Lord has come across plenty of people when they have encountered the awesome beauties of God’s creation and continues to do so.
God’s creation? Some would say that science says otherwise. Some would say that the theory of evolution says otherwise. Some would say that the vastness of the cosmos says otherwise. Some would say that faith and science are in some kind of eternal conflict. Aye. Right. I’m a science graduate and I’ve taught science all my adult life. I think science is fantastic. It has shown us how the laws of nature work - the laws that, I believe, God built into this universe. Laws that mean that life evolves - it develops, it grows and it changes to create such a vast variety of life from beginnings as simple, perhaps, as a few amino acids. To me that speaks of the endless creativity of God. It speaks of a God who didn’t just go “Wham! There’s the world”, but of a God who is involved with his creation, constantly creating something new. For me the days of science are days of inspiration.
It comes down to something Einstein once said: “There are two ways you can live your life: as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle.” You can see the world and the people in it as little more than machines or you can see something wonderful that speaks to you of God. Back in the 6th Century Gregory the Great said, “We have become dull to life. Five thousand men were filled with five loaves; ... every day the grains of seed that are sown are multiplied in a fullness of ears, and no man wonders.” He pointed out that we think of the Resurrection of Christ and are filled with awe and wonder at a man being restored to life, but every second of the day an new life comes into this world: a new human being unique and special and different. I could tell you all the details of how, biologically, a child comes into being but none of that would detract from the wonder of that moment when, as a parent, you hold your new-born child in your arms for the very first time. those, truly, are days of inspiration.
Maybe that’s why God chose to come into the world in just the same way as the rest of us - as a new-born, helpless child. Here’s a thing. When the angels, in Luke’s gospel, told the shepherds to seek out the new-born Christ it was in terms of the simplest, most ordinary things in the world - a baby in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, yet they saw the wonder in it all. Because there is something wonderful, something inspiring, in the birth of a child - even if it does happen every second of the day.
When I held my son in my arms for the first time - as Joseph held the new-born Jesus - I wanted nothing but happiness for him. He was - and is - precious and special to me. I would never want to see him in need or hunger or without a roof over his head. Why? Because I love him. Something as simply and as ordinary as that. That moment I held him for the first time was a day of inspiration because it spoke to me of the love of God for his children. Am I alone in that?
So what if we took that idea and ran with it? What if we saw every human life as something special and precious and wonderful? What if it mattered to you and to me and to everyone that no child should ever know need or hunger or have to go without a roof over their heads? What if we saw in the miracle of the birth of each and every child the same wonder that we experience in the birth of our own children? What if we saw in this most ordinary, but most wonderful of things an idea so mind-blowingly simple as this: everyone is precious and special. Everyone is a unique creation of God and irreplaceable?
This is the third Sunday of Advent and we prepare to take our final step to the manger of Bethlehem: to an event as ordinary and everyday as the birth of a child and one that would change the world forever. Suppose we lived as if every child born in this world was as important as the new-born Christ. Suppose we let the wonder of that birth to inspire us to care for all of God’s children? Then God’s Spirit would be upon us to bring good news to the oppressed. These would be days of inspiration.
Lord inspire us to see wonder in the ordinary. Inspire us to see, in beauty, the touch of your hand. Inspire us to see, in every child, the work of love. Inspire us to care for our brothers and sisters.
Preached at Gretna Old parish church