The lost art of joy – Joy to the world

* MERRY CHRISTMAS *

Did St Nicholas visit you last night? I think I must have been on the naughty list!

Yesterday, we looked at the origins of Santa Claus, and how the cultural icon that we have for our modern Christmas was actually built upon over time – from the Coke commercials of the 1930’s, which in turn were based on illustrations in a magazine in the 1880’s, which in turn was based on a poem written in the 1820’s, which in turn was inspired by the various tales and legends of 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

All of those were based on the life of Bishop Nicholas of Myra, who was later recognised as St Nicholas.

But the life of St Nicholas was in turn inspired by one man whose birth we celebrate today on December 25th*.

Whether you believe he is the Son of God or not, Jesus, the son of a carpenter from a back block of the Roman empire, undeniably changed the world. The influence of Christianity permeates our culture, from our calendar to our holidays to our systems of government and our democracy.

Jesus still has followers numbering in the billions all over the world, and his teachings on love, generosity and peace have inspired countless people spanning hundreds of generations to seek the best in others, to live for a purpose bigger than themselves. To give and to forgive, to go and to grow.

But even more so for those who believe that he is the Son of God, Jesus promises eternal life connected to God in heaven, which is the ultimate joy.

Jesus isn’t just for the rich and powerful, the famous, those who are ‘worthy’ of him. His promises of love, connection, and joy everlasting are available to everyone no matter how ordinary or poor or oppressed. That’s why, when Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds in the fields, not to the religious or political upper class.

In the gospel of Luke, it reads,

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

~ Luke 2:8-14

Yes indeed, the birth of Jesus was good news of great joy.

We celebrate Christmas because, 2000 years ago in a stable in the back blocks of the middle east, a baby was born, a baby who would grow into a man, a man whose influence inspired selfless giving and love through countless generations.

Whether it be through a life of devotion to God, or giving to a child overseas through a charity, or making a meal for those without a home, or even if it’s simply seen in the gifts left in a stocking by a jolly old man in a red suit, the love and generosity of Jesus still inspires joy now, and forevermore if you choose to believe.

Truly, joy to the world.

~~~

* I know … technically Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December. He was probably born in the middle of the year, sometime in the northern hemisphere summer, and the date of the 25th of December was chosen by the Roman Emperor Constantine in AD 336, in place of the celebration of the Pagan Sun god Mithra. The most important thing is that we remember and celebrate it 🙂

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A Dissertation on the Uterus

When one thinks of Mothers Day, one tends to think of flowers, chocolates, perfume, presents in pink paper, and breakfast in bed … you know, “sugar and spice and all things nice.”

But the unsung hero of Mothers Day is the uterus.  It’s concealed inside every woman, yet never given the accolades that it deserves.  After all, without the uterus, none of us would be here today.  So I would like to share some observations on the humble uterus, and I hope, add a new dimension to the celebration of Mothers Day.

The uterus resides in the female pelvis, nestled between the bladder in the front and the rectum at the back.  It is a pear-shaped, hollow, and very muscular, and measures three inches long, two inches wide and about one inch thick.  All up, it weighs about 60 grams.  It has two tubes leading to the ovaries, and the lower part opens into the upper vagina.

Two ligaments are responsible for holding the uterus in place and carrying the vital blood vessels and innervation.  The round ligaments attach to the top of the uterus and curve around the wall of the pelvis like two arms extended to give a hug.  The broad ligaments hang from the fallopian tubes and round ligaments like a curtain, and attach the uterus to the floor and sides of the pelvis.

While the uterus is very small in a woman before she becomes pregnant, it has an amazing capacity to stretch.  A uterus in late pregnancy actually takes up most of the abdominal cavity (thus measuring over a foot in length) and can weigh a couple of kilograms.  The uterus just keeps growing to whatever size it needs to be to accommodate the baby inside of it.  The uterus is also very strong – uterine contractions during labour can produce between 30 and 60 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Before pregnancy, the uterus gets itself ready every month to receive a new life.  The womb lining is thick and nurturing, and is ready and waiting when ovulation takes place each month, just in case it’s needed.  If it’s not, then it renews itself, ready for the next time it might be called upon.

From the moment of conception, the uterus is providing for the baby.  In fact, the baby literally takes over, modulating the responses of the uterus.  It secretes hormones to bring more blood flow to the uterus to support its own growth and make the uterus stronger, while at the same time making the ligaments around it to relax so that it can grow.  The uterus completely envelops the growing baby, protecting it with the thick layer of muscle.  So protective is the uterus that babies in the womb can survive trauma from high speed car crashes or heavy blows to the mothers abdomen, with no noticeable trauma.

Finally, after 40 weeks of stretching and growth, of protecting and nurturing, the baby must leave the uterus.  If the baby stays any longer than two weeks over, both the baby and the mother are at risk of dying.  It goes without saying that the process of separation is painful – labour is synonymous with pain and travail.

There are two causes of labour pains, stretching and pushing.  I don’t think I can really do justice to the pain from childbirth, but I will do my best for those who will never, or have not yet, experienced labour.  The birth canal in ordinary life has a maximal diameter of about four centimetres.  During parturition, the birth canal has to accommodate a baby’s head which is usually between ten and eleven centimetres in diameter.  So imagine taking your lower lip and trying to pull it up over your eyebrows.  This would be the rough equivalent to the stretching that occurs during delivery.  The muscular contractions are different again.  Think of the pain of a muscle cramp in your calf, then imagine that across your whole lower abdomen and lasting for two minutes.  You may have a now have an idea why childbirth is painful.

While it may seem that the process is pretty easy for the baby, it also goes through some pretty intense stress.  The intensive squeezing through the already overstretched birth canal actually wrings the excess fluid out of the babies lungs, which were previously filled with amniotic fluid.  It is because of this squeezing, and the very rude shock of the cold air of the outside world on it’s face, that the baby takes it’s first breath.  The average time that it takes to get the baby through the four inches of the birth canal is about 30 minutes. It may not be physically far, but the journey of separation is very strenuous.

When God made man and woman, he had already been creating for five and a half days, so he was in the groove (see Genesis 1:24-31).  He made man, and the things that define man he placed on the outside, like his “defining organs”, and his physical strength.  But man wasn’t complete.  So God made woman, the pinnacle of his creation.  She complements and completes the man.  God made her so that which defines her was internal – the uterus, her defining organ, and the emotional strength and nurturing which the uterus represents.

Even before they are mothers themselves, most women will cultivate relationships and help the people in their life to flourish.  Women, like the uterus, have a remarkable capacity to stretch and nowhere it is better demonstrated than motherhood.  Like a foetus to the womb, so a child literally takes over the life of it’s mother, constantly demanding in every aspect of life.  But the selfless care results in growth and stretching – the baby fostering a type of inner strength that is rarely found in women who have not raised a baby of their own.

The protective instinct of a mother is amazing, sometimes going beyond rational explanation to the level of absolute self-sacrifice.  Like the uterus, enclosing the baby with an almost impenetrable layer of thick, strong muscle, a mothers love cocoons her child and so often takes the physical and psychological blows that were meant for her child.  And mothers are very strong, with an inner force that can push through physical obstacles, social barriers and psychological pain in order to find what is best for their children.

The transition from dependence to independence, like the process of labour, is painful.  Pushing a child away requires emotional strength as much as caring and protecting does, but children eventually need to move on and start living on their own, “breathing for themselves” so to speak.  They may not move very far physically, but in terms of emotional separation, it is often a long and stressful journey.  The cold air of the real world and the stress of the transition can make them gasp and scream for a while, but it makes them stronger, and able to live on their own.

Finally the uterus is, anatomically speaking, like an angel, with the round ligaments extending out in front like arms reaching out to hug, and the broad ligaments flowing down from them like wings.  It goes without saying that mothers are angels.  Constantly reaching out to give love and protecting by enveloping in their wings, mothers personify the spiritual ministry of angels.  They also reflect God’s likeness, as it says in Psalm 91:4, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

So we owe a lot to the uterus.  An amazing yet understated organ, it reflects the amazing traits that God placed inside women everywhere, which are brought to the fore by the journey of motherhood.  Without the uterus, there would be no mothers, or Mothers Day.  On Mothers Day, when you give your mum a hug and a kiss on the cheek, don’t forget to thank God for his amazing creation of the humble uterus and the special traits it shares with the pinnacle of Gods creation.