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The Orange Bike

The Orange Bike

I think it’s time to tell the story of the orange bike again. My friends have heard it before, but I haven’t taken it out of the file for a while and it needs dusting down. But a few other thoughts first.

We’re familiar with the idea of comfort food, things we eat when we need to shut out the world for a short while: toast and marmalade in the morning or cocoa and biscuits in the evening, or chocolate at any time. Most of us have the same fuzzy warm, comfortable feelings about Christmas. It’s a comfort zone – a place in our thoughts of security and wellbeing. For many, Christmas is a security blanket to wrap ourselves in, protection from harsh realities at least for a few hours. But at the back of our minds, on the edge of consciousness maybe, we know that part of the Christmas story is Herod’s appallingly wicked and depraved Slaughter of the Innocents. And we know that the Wise Men’s gift of Myrrh symbolised that thirty-three years later Christ would experience the indescribable and infinite suffering of Gethsemane and the cross, necessary to give meaning to his birth. In fact, without Easter, there would be no Christmas. It’s because of Christ’s death that the world remembers his birth.

Dealing with these different strands of Christmas is challenging. For some people the mixture of sorrow and joy is too difficult, so they reject them both for something far less substantial. The prophet Enoch had a vision in which he saw God weeping. In astonishment he asks how is it possible for God to weep. The answer he gets is the centre of the Christmas story.

32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, 33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; 37 . . . and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? 40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep . . . (Moses 7:32-40)

Terryl Givens’ book “The God Who Weeps” is drawn from this scripture. Givens points out that believing in a God who weeps is unusual. Like Enoch, most people are astonished at the possibility that God could weep. A large part of the Christian world believes in a God “without body, parts or passions”. Maybe we could just about conceive of a God without body or parts (even though it is not what the scriptures teach) but if you think about it carefully, a God without emotion – without love or compassion makes no sense at all. Givens says:

The answer, it turns out, is that God is not exempt from emotional pain . . . On the contrary, God’s pain is as infinite as his love. He weeps because he feels compassion. In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain he can, assumes all the suffering he can and weeps over the misery he can neither prevent nor assume. (Terryl Givens, The God Who Weeps page 25)

This is why Christmas happened. Understanding that sorrow and joy go together is part of the Christmas message. To deny it is to misunderstand the nature of life.

However, it’s not wrong to set aside personal challenges for a while and enjoy a little pleasure. Some people criticise this as escapism, a denial of reality, and I suppose in some cases it can be, but on the whole I think it’s healthy. After all, even the Lord only weeps occasionally, even though his children continue to cause him suffering.

One of my most enduring Christmas memories is the orange bike (the photo on the right, not the headline photo). My parents were not well off; we were an ordinary working class family on a council estate. But my sister Lesley and I didn’t feel deprived; there was no television to whip up envy or jealousy for unobtainable luxuries and all our neighbours were in a similar position. However one year when I was about 8 or 9 mum and dad scrimped together enough to buy me my first two-wheeler bike. It was a rusty old second-hand machine, small enough for an 8 year old, that dad cleaned up and painted a bright orange to make it look new-ish. When I came down on Christmas morning, there it was, leaning against the fireplace, gleaming in all its orangeness. It had been kept a great secret; I was shocked and delighted. It was one of the highlights of my young life. I didn’t know and didn’t care that it was old, second hand and rusty underneath the new paint. Only one problem: I couldn’t ride it! So, in the new school term Dad spent a lot of time meeting me at the gates of Beechwood Junior School, walking beside me, holding the saddle while I rode home. There was a gentle slope from the school gates down to the main road, and one memorable day I was halfway down the slope when I turned to say something to dad, but he wasn’t there – he was still at the top of the hill by the school gates. I had learned to ride but didn’t know it – but that’s another story, and also incidentally, a second kind of gift from my dad. Anyway, the reason I relate this is to stress that in the midst of high and solemn doctrine there’s a place for ordinary presents wrapped in tinsel. We live in a temporal world, and temporal giving is part of the gospel. After all, the gifts of the wise men were physical. Hear this from Boyd K. Packer:

“I want to emphasize that I have no quarrel with that well-fed gentleman with the red suit and the white whiskers. He was very generous to me when I was a boy, and we are looking forward with great anticipation to his visit at our home next Monday night. The tree is there, the holly wreath, the stockings hung along the fireplace mantle — it is a very long mantle. I know of few things on this earth quite so celestial as the face of a little youngster, happy, hopeful, and believing, with Christmas almost here. All of those things with reference to Christmas are appropriate and good and all of them are for children — except, I suppose, the mistletoe.” (Boyd K. Packer, Keeping Christmas, BYU Devotional, December 19, 1962)

We all need an orange bike. Even if it’s not quite new, and maybe needs a little attention. No matter what your sorrows and troubles might be; no matter what anxiety or difficulty you have; try to set them aside for a time and enjoy the blessing of Christmas; it could cost little or nothing, but somewhere, somehow, find a bright orange bike in your life even if you can’t ride it yet.

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