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All This For You - Tony Graff

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Christmas Eve and DayCarol services and otherAbout ChristmasChristmas reflections 2015

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"All this for you." — Tony Graff
Do you agree or disagree with the following statements.

  • Pride can be good.
  • Selfishness is sometimes healthy.
  • Helping may be harmful.

I agree with all of them. We'll leave the positive benefits of pride and selfishness for another time, but what about the harmful effects of helping. We have been told that we ought to care and that care needs to be put into action. We enjoy it and even feel a sense of satisfaction when we are able to "Do something" for someone. The danger comes if we act on someone's behalf when really they could be taking responsibility for themselves. We may behave as a smothering parent who turns the person in need into a helpless child when it would be better for them to be a mature adult and take their own initiative.

I have a feeling that in my early days as a Prison Chaplain I may have caused considerable grief to the other professionals in the establishment. They may have been working with one of the prisoners and encouraging him to manage his own affairs. He, however, saw no point in learning to stand on his own two feet if he could get some mug somewhere to carry him. And in me he spotted the very person who might give him the ride he required.

I remember also speaking to a Social Worker who had an uphill struggle teaching a man she worked with to manage his budget. Her work was made harder because he kept turning up at the church with stories of his troubles knowing that in return he would be given shopping bags filled with food.

So helping may on occasions be harmful.

In contrast, there are the times when it is appropriate to get involved and act for someone in need. The man left half dead on the Jericho Road needed the Good Samaritan to give immediate first aid, to transport him to a place where he could recover, and to provide the resources to pay for his care. This was not a moment for the Samaritan to deliver a lecture about the wounded man's need to take his own initiative and sort out his own problems. Similarly while the man I mentioned earlier was taking advantage of the good will of the Church, there are many today who are not in a position to help themselves and who have no option but to receive the relief offered by Food Banks.

I saw a big example of someone in need of help in a recent film. It was based on the true story of Richard Philips the Captain of a container ship that was hijacked by Pirates in 2009. Eventually the Captain is taken hostage in one of the ship's lifeboats. The four Pirates are armed. There is really nothing that the Captain can do to save himself. The moment comes when those in the little lifeboat hear from another ship trying to make contact with them. The Captain just manages to get a brief glimpse of the vessel that has come to his aid. It is a United States Navy destroyer, and it is huge. You can see the relief flooding through the Captain and maybe there's a sense of wonder as well. I can imagine him thinking "All this to rescue me, this massive ship, all these people just to get me safely home."

We are people in need. In need of God and of the life that he freely and generously gives. We are not in a position to climb up to God ourselves. God is too far beyond us. But God's will is to come to our aid and carry us to our home with him where "Justice flows down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream". God comes to help us in the Christmas story. There we see our Lord Jesus Christ "Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and being found in human likeness." We declare the personal nature of this coming of God in the Baptism service when we say, "For you Jesus Christ came into the world."

Captain Philips was amazed to see the US Navy coming to help him. You may look with an even greater sense of wonder and delight at the child Jesus, born in Bethlehem. You may see what Charles Wesley describes as "Our God contracted to a span incomprehensibly made man". You may look upon these things. You may treasure them and ponder them in your hearts; and you may hear the voice of your loving God speaking to you and saying "All this for you."

Christmas Eve and DayCarol services and otherAbout ChristmasChristmas reflections 2015