Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The nice man who came to repair the heating system recognised me from his previous visit. We had had an interesting dilemma over a five pound note. I can’t remember exactly how much the bill had come to, only that I didn’t have the exact change. He didn’t have a spare five pound note to give me any change, and I had magnanimously said, “It’s OK. Keep the change.” I would have paid more than he asked anyway to get the heating back! But, no…he insisted that he would only take what he charged.

“What if,” he said, “I put the five pounds into the collection plate at church? Would that be OK?” He then assured me that he would really put the money in the collection plate…he wouldn’t hang on to it. He wouldn’t just spin me a line. He called around later to tell me that he had put the five pounds in the collection.

That was a year ago. A couple of days ago, the heating broke down. It wasn’t unexpected. Along with last year’s repair had come a warning that one day there would come a day when the heating system would be unfixable. We had been thinking that we would have to upgrade the whole system…sometime in the summer. We never got beyond the thinking stage. So on discovering that the heating was broken, we slipped and slithered to a friend’s house to get warm and phoned the repair man.

I thought he said “Tomorrow” (Tuesday) between eleven and one. He thought he had said “Wednesday”. The next day I waited. I timed my quick slip to the shop to be back in time for his visit. By half past one he hadn’t come. Our electric heater was bravely churning out heat, but making very little impression and clad a hundred layers of clothing, I phoned to see where he was. His wife assured me that if he said he would come…he would come, and promised to phone him on his mobile to chivvy him along.

Maybe an hour later there was a knock on the door. “It is you,” he said. He told me that he had marked me down in the diary for tomorrow. Had he not remembered out previous meeting, and the five pound note, he told me that he might not have come around. Apparently he was all too used to people making arrangements for one day and then “pretending” they thought it was an earlier day. Some little old biddy would insist that the arrangement was for “Tuesday” knowing full well that it was on the Wednesday, but he didn’t like to call their bluff.

He looked me full in the eye, “But you wouldn’t do that, would you?” Actually, no I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have phoned his wife to chivvy him along if I had thought it was anything but the Tuesday. Even now, I was almost closing the door on him saying that I would see him tomorrow then, apologising profusely from dragging him away from a freezing pensioner!

Seeing as he was here, and not due anywhere else for a half hour or so, he said that he would look at the heater anyway.

“So when was I last here?”

“About this time last year…maybe a little earlier.”

“And what exactly did I do?”

I explained that the pilot light had gone out on the gas heating and despite trying to relight it, it kept going out. I wasn’t sure what he had done exactly.

“And that was last year? Not the year before maybe?”

This wasn’t some kind of memory game. It really bothered him that he had possibly done a bad job. Just as he was used to the old biddies spinning him the line that it really was “Tuesday” he had agreed to come, he was also aware of workmen that did a less than good job. They would spin out a job, doing it less than well, and get to do it again and earn more money. That was not the kind of workman he was. When he did a job, he did it well. One could almost hear him muttering to the heater that it had no right breaking down again like this, not after he had fixed it. It mattered to him that I knew he wasn’t playing the system.

“It’s very sad that we live in a world where we no longer trust people,” he said as he folded his earnings into his wallet. He had come armed with a five pound note this time. “No, wait a minute…it’s really sad that I don’t trust people. I don’t trust that you always knew I was coming on Wednesday. No…wait a minute…I know that you thought I was coming today. I know that because I know you are a Christian.”

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Flesh to Flesh Immanuel

It is amazing sometimes how one verse in scripture can create such a vivid picture in your head that almost haunts you.

I have been reading through the book of Amos. It is not cheerful reading until the final few verses when I guess Amos comes to the conclusion that if God doesn’t finish on a word of hope, people will simply be crushed beneath heavy words of judgement.

The verse that hit me isn’t in the last few verses, but Amos 9: 5 – “The Lord, the LORD Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn.”

Once upon a time, in the Garden of Eden, God used to touch the earth. He used to encounter Adam in the cool of the day and I am sure that there were no tears, or no mourning. There was friendship and intimacy and communion. Once Adam and Eve had tasted the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, all that fellowship went. It wasn’t in an instant. God was still a part of their lives, but as the generations come and went, it got harder to remember what it felt like. It got harder to maintain any kind of relationship with God because it no longer came naturally.

I have never really spent time with ex-boyfriends. There are very few of them to begin with. I am not entirely sure how it would all go. It probably wouldn’t be an issue since I am very happily married, and I might not have been is the ex and I had stayed together.

Imagine though if the only effect that you have now on someone you used to love, and who used to love you, is them bursting into tears when you enter the room. The joy that you used to share together has been replaced with sadness. Maybe you realise that neither of you are complete without the other and that without that completeness you will never be truly happy. Maybe you have left enough time for them to look for happiness elsewhere, knowing that one day they will turn back to you. Maybe you begin to realize that as each day passes, they remember less of what life was like with you. They don’t know what it is they should be returning to.

God used to touch the earth and there would be joy. Now he touches the earth and it mourns. Who would not want things back the way they used to be, if it were in their power? And yet the way things were was not really good enough. Who would not want some kind of plan to make sure that what had happened the last time, wouldn’t happen all over again?

Christmas is about God touching the earth again. Nothing melts this time and there is no mourning. This time he touches flesh to flesh – no mystery, no majesty – just flesh. Immanuel.