A pair of ears for God

My grandparents did not have a telephone. Opposite their house there was a phone box which nan would use to ring us. It was always nan, never grandad, he was too careful with his money to spend it on phone calls. But nan would ring and talk until the pips went. If we needed to speak to them urgently we would ring the number of the call box, and hope that someone would pick it up and go and knock on their door. How times have changed.

I am greatly attached to my landline.  I feel awkward about ringing a mobile number, because I never know where the person will be when it rings, they may be in the pub, in the supermarket, or on the train. Someone once had their mobile ring while meeting the Queen. ‘You’d better get that,’ the Queen said, ‘it might be someone important.’ At least with the landline you know the person will be at home if they answer.

There are times when we need someone to be there, to listen to us share a concern, to come through for us; just as Elizabeth was there for Mary. Though she had agreed to do God’s will Mary must have been left extremely startled by the annunciation. How could she conceive by the Holy Spirit? Bearing a child while still unmarried would have brought shame upon her and her family. Mary was at risk of being an outcast. Who could she turn to?

She goes to her trusted relation Elizabeth. It was a desperate journey, a four day journey from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s village Ain Karem, just outside Jerusalem; a journey an unaccompanied young woman would not normally undertake. She goes to her in faith that Elizabeth will understand. And Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit and herself the recipient of a miracle, extends to her the blessing of welcome, “why am I so highly favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me? ” Elizabeth is there for Mary in her hour of need.

I expect that you remember times when someone came through for you. Conversely times when people weren’t there for us can be difficult to forget and forgive, though as Christians we must try. Memories of our own failure can weigh heavily. Some 15 years ago my father suffered a heart attack and my mother was ringing me through the night and I did not answer. I had no phone upstairs, the doors were closed and I did not hear the phone. That had to be put right, to make sure I would hear the phone in a time of emergency.

There may be times when we need to talk, but it seems as though everyone is unavailable. Calls now can be screened and phones kept on silent. Though it may be easier to contact one another, that does not mean that we are necessarily more available.  

How fortunate we are that God is always there. He neither sleeps not nor slumbers, as the pslamist says, and when we pray to him through the Holy Spirit he is always available; and completely interested in everything we have to say to him.

And we are reminded at Christmas above all he how close God is in the form of his son, Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’  Christ repeatedly assures us of his constant presence with us. Having come to this world, he has not left it but remains through the Holy Spirit. ‘I am with you even til the end of time,' he assures us. He is here in Word and in sacrament  ‘There in thine all trustfully we tell our tale of misery, sweet sacrament  of peace.’

Just as he is there for us, so we should also be there for each other. The misfortunes of others may not happen when it is convenient to us. A call of distress may come when we think we do not have the time to deal with it, but can we make time?

The Irish writer Frank McCourt recalled in his book Angela’s Ashes growing up poor in Limerick in Ireland and a series of rejections by the church, with doors slammed in his face, until one day he sits before an image of St Francis and pours his heart out in desparation. A kindly Franciscan sits beside him and offers to be a pair of ears for God.  

John the Baptist, in the womb of Elizabeth, was the first to recognize the Christ. We recognize Christ by our acceptance and living out of his teaching. It is not enough to just profess to be Christians, for Jesus says ‘not everyone who calls to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my Father.’

Our pattern for obedience to God is Mary. Our example of concern for others is Elizabeth. May we be open to obey God’s will, and be willing to help others when they call upon us, and be a pair of ears for God.