New Year 21/22
You may know the song by Abba, “Take a chance on me,” - and no I’m not going to sing it! It has the desperate plea of someone wanting a relationship. “If you change your mind, I’m the first in line … If you’re all alone, when the pretty birds have flown, Honey, I’m still free, take a chance on me.” It’s not quite the sentiment I want to focus on but that single phase, “Take a chance on me.”
One problem confronting the Church at a national and international level is the absence of risk takers in positions of leadership. There’s the desire for safety and security. Respectability and predictability are all seen as valuable qualities. One of the things the pandemic of the last two years has revealed is that it’s a more widespread approach to life than I realised. People are terrified of risks. When did you last take a risk? What is a risk? Well, I think we have to be aware at some level that things could go wrong. There is an element of danger, threat. It might all go collapse; things might end up worse than they were before.
In the world of financial investments, I’m told, there’s an awareness that however money is invested there is a risk but that can be managed to various degrees. We’ve also in some instances I suspect blocked out of our minds when we are taking a risk. Most forms of travel carry some risk with them, especially air travel and even driving a car. We try to ensure the risk is reduced by making sure we’ve not been drinking alcohol and by wearing a seat belt and by making sure the breaks are tested regularly. All this is done I suspect to the extent of blotting out from our mind that there is any risk at all. It’s a further nail in the coffin of us being risk takers.
It’s important we know about risk for it is something free creatures can do. Toasters cannot take a risk, they just function until they break. We as human beings, made in the image of God, are given freedom as part of our vocation to be higher than the animals and the plants who also inhabit the world. Sin comes and dresses up the lure of its desires as giving us choice and we love the sound of that. In reality it’s like when someone cons us in to giving them our bank details on the phone. It sounds like we need to sort a problem out or pay the gas bill, but in reality we’re imprisoning ourselves and giving something we own over to another. Paul gives the baptised an inspiring description of the life to which we’re called: “The glorious liberty of the children of God,” (Romans 8:21).
God in one sense takes a risk by sending His Son in to the world. Now, when we take a risk we don’t know the outcome. God, of course, always knows what’s going to happen so cannot take a risk in that sense, but to return to the song, He takes a chance on us. Perhaps it’s even more startling because He creates human beings knowing some of us will pay Him as little regard as we do. He sends His Son in to the world to rectify the problem and knows not everyone will want to walk in the light of Jesus because the allure of sin. But in all this God is showing He’s taking a chance, He’s committed to us, He’s doing this for us, to use another phrase of St Paul, “while we were yet sinners,” (Romans 5:8). God’s love, His decision to make us free creatures and our failure to love Him means no other way can work.
On 1st January, the eighth day of Christmas, the end of the Christmas Octave, the Church celebrates Mary in her motherhood of God. God always exists, there is never a time when He was not. As we say in the Creed, God “made all things visible and invisible.” God is the only being that is not created. He just exists, He is. So Mary is not God’s mother in the sense that she existed before Him. But she is in the sense that she gave birth to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as we began celebrating a week ago. Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. Mary is God’s Mother therefore in this true and wonderful sense. To celebrate her as such is to emphasise the joy and beauty of God taking our human flesh upon Himself in the person of Jesus the Saviour.
This was all part of the risk, as well. God’s will is presented to Mary by the archangel Gabriel: “Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus … The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” Mary says yes: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” (St Luke 1:29-38). Mary could have said no: she was utterly free to do so as we are when God approaches us. Did she realise the full magnitude of what she was saying and doing? Presumably not, for as we heard in the Gospel on Sunday earlier this week from St Luke 2, she and Joseph take a while to figure out what being parents to the Heavenly Child will really involve.
Mary then also takes a risk. She is willing to take the hand extended to her by God and walk faithfully to what she doesn’t yet know or understand. We might think also of how Ruth pledges to be with her mother-in-law Naomi in the Old Testament. Ruth is not a Jew and yet is pledging to going to the Jewish home of her deceased husband’s mother: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). No ifs, no buts. No, ‘Well we’ll see if I like it in six months time.’ What we see is commitment that this was the right thing to do. Taking a risk. This is the vocation of those called to marriage too. They commit to be with each other for better, for worse, for circumstances neither of them can imagine as they stand before the altar of God but it is still “till death us do part.”
As we begin this new year, let’s resolve to take some risks. Maybe just little insignificant ones but schooling ourselves afresh so that we know this is part of what it is be free. A clear sense of what’s right will mean we take risks because we know that what is not important can fail and it makes no difference whatever. God has taken a chance on us by sending His Son, let’s not disappoint Him. Amen.