My Dear Friends,
What a big world!
Half way through a telephone conversation with my daughter she apparently sneezed. She was telling me her destination in China. She moves out there this summer to continue her language studies. I was about to respond ‘Bless you!’ when I realised the curious sound she had made was not a nasopharyngeal paroxysm at all, it was the name of the place she would be living for the next year - the city of Hangzhou (pronounced, to my confusion, ‘Han-cho’!)
Now, I like to consider myself a relatively cosmopolitan individual, widely travelled and with broad horizons, but I don’t think I could name you more than two cities in the whole of China. And my daughter’s sneeze wasn’t one of them. But it turns out this place I’ve never heard of has a population larger than Greater Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands put together, and would dwarf every British city bar London!
What a big world we live in. And how little of it we know.
Back here in Astbury it seems I can spend my whole life absorbed in minutiae; each day filled with finding hymn numbers and house numbers; each night in making two mile car journeys to two hour meetings . . . But God has a different perspective on the little things: as a long journey began, God made a promise to Abraham that through his seed ‘all the families of the earth shall be blessed’1; in the middle of a dark night, to a furtive Nicodemus avoiding the attention of his peers, Jesus did not speak of God’s love for him but for the world2; in the Temple, as Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms, he foresaw the child would become ‘a light to all people’3. These biblical encounters are private moments where small events in distant times and out-of-the-way places are shown as forming part of God’s plan for a greater human history, for people from all nations, for the whole earth itself.
Today we might look out of our window and be able to see no further than that trip to the shops or the doctor’s appointment. But God sees further than our limited horizons - to people, events, times and places we cannot imagine.
I have just discovered that a place on the other side of the world, which I hadn’t even heard of a week ago, is to become my daughter’s home. Knowing God (and knowing my daughter!) I have no doubt that there are all sorts of things still to come, most of which will surprise us . . . watch this space!
1 Genesis 12, 3
2 John 3, 16
3 Luke 2, 32: as recited in the Nunc dimittis at Evensong each week, and commemorated in our Candlemas Service on 3rd February.
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