Advent Prayers, 15 December
Pray, Play, Say. Lincoln
What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice,
love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
To the bidding: “Auntie, will you come play football?
my instinctive response is: “Lord, have mercy.”
But off I go anyway, to ball and net, because the person asking matters more to me than my non-sporty ways.
Up and down the land, the most unlikely people are playing football because the person who asked them to matters more than their own reluctance. They are not the only ones, of course: there are the eager ones, the skilled ones, the people who would do anything for their team.
However we feel about it, football is one of the ways that our culture works out our basic need for belonging. We play with the people we care about. We learn who we are in the game.
When a child asks for a football stripe, or wants desperately to join the team, they are testing the boundaries of their identity. “Will I belong here? Can I fit in? Will this be fun – and keep me from being bored – and give me a story to tell?” Children are seeking acceptance. They will find it wherever and however they can.
One of the questions the church faces is whether we can be a place of acceptance where each person finds a way to belong. It is easy to say ‘yes, of course – we are that,’ but there is a gap between tolerance and acceptance, and we stumble into it all the time. Tolerance says: “we will put up with you: you can stay,” and (quietly) “we trust you will become more like us in time.” Acceptance says: “how wonderful, you are here: beloved child of God.” In fact, if our acceptance of others is real, we don’t have to tolerate everything. We can set expectations on how we relate when we come together, or what it is we are trying to do. But we can’t set boundaries on who joins us, or who will show us the ways of God.
In Advent, we are called to make ready a place of acceptance, of hospitality and of love. We prepare to meet the Christ-child, the hidden home of God.
Today we pray for Play, Pray, Say. Pray that through the teams they run, and the relationships they build, children will find a place of acceptance and welcome.
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