When we think of the Christmas story, we often focus on the birth of Jesus as the only miraculous event that occurred.
And indeed it was an awesome miracle: the virgin birth of a baby who would become the Saviour of the world.
But there was another miraculous birth that happened around the same time, described only in the gospel of Luke.
The angel Gabriel told Mary she would conceive without having had relations with her betrothed, Joseph. The Holy Spirit would come upon her, and she would give birth to a son, who was to be called Jesus.
This was no doubt astounding news to Mary. But the angel didn’t stop there: he had another amazing news flash.
The joyful symphony of birdsong that graced the spring and summer months has diminished. In these parts, most birds have already flown south for the winter by now. The backyards and parks seem unnaturally quiet, with nary a chirp to be heard.
It can leave us feeling bereft, like we’re all alone.
But we’re never as alone as we might think, as we’ll see from some encouraging accounts in the Bible.
As a gardener, I must admit that I prefer using the common or folk names for flowers. These sometimes-ancient names are often whimsical and enchanting, like “Miss Willmott’s Ghost,” whose origins we explored last week.
Who wouldn’t love calling flowers by such names as cherry pie plant, lady’s slipper, love-in-a-mist, baby blue eyes, bachelor’s button, quaker ladies, whirling butterflies, johnny-jump-up, busy lizzie, or candytuft? It makes the heart sing to use endearing names like these.
The scientific or botanical names for flowers, on the other hand, can seem daunting. They’re usually derived from Latin, and while they can give a more accurate description of what a plant’s nature is, they can sound a bit intimidating to my ears.
In fact, some botanical names actually sound like a disease:
“Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got Scabiosa again.”
“That’s nothing! You should see my sister’s Myosotis: it’s rampant.”
“You don’t say! But did you hear about Kelly? She’s got Nepeta nervosa.”
“No! Is she seeing a psychiatrist for that?”
(In case you’re wondering, Scabiosa is the botanical name for the pincushion flower; you might know Myosotis better as the little blue forget-me-not; and Nepeta nervosa is a type of catmint.)
I’m so glad that we have the opportunity to use informal names for the flowers we cherish.
In the same way, believers have been given the great privilege of using a remarkably intimate name for God: “Abba Father.”
As hundreds of millions of us are shut in our homes, nervously monitoring the news for the latest updates on the coronavirus, we’re also dealing with an unexpected side effect of this pandemic:
Many of us are gaining weight as we turn to comfort foods to calm us.
This is perfectly understandable. We’re in a global crisis right now, with the news getting worse day by day in some countries. Who would blame us for reaching for cookies, ice cream, fried foods or nostalgic casseroles to console us, even if they can only do so temporarily?
But is there a more lasting source of comfort, preferably one that’s low in fat and calories?
If you’re familiar with the stock market, you probably know what a “stop-loss” is. It’s an order whereby your shares are automatically sold if their value drops to a predetermined level. This prevents your losses from becoming even greater if share prices drop further.
It’s a handy tool to set in place when trading on the stock market. It locks in your profits or limits your losses in a down market, and helps preclude financial catastrophe.
But don’t you wish we had a “stop-loss” for real-life problems?
Sometimes there’s something we want to express, but we can’t seem to find the right term for it. There’s a feeling or situation that we just can’t put into words. Or maybe the precise word doesn’t even exist in English.
On occasion we have to turn to words and phrases in other languages to describe exactly what we’re trying to say. For instance, in English we often borrow the German word “schadenfreude,” which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others”.
Maybe we should consider borrowing a few more foreign words that have no English equivalent. I suggest the following: