Celebrity pop icon 'Madonna' has been much in the headlines recently over her adoption of a Malawian child. Opinions expressed in the papers range from the outright cynical, accusing Madonna of suffering from 'designer baby' syndrome, to those who applaud her efforts to turn around the life of an impoverished African child destined to end up at the bottom of the pile.
Whatever our own personal 'take' on Madonna and the adoption, it has to be said that women have a tremendous capacity for showing care and compassion - it's all part of the Maker's design. And in many instances it is Christian women who are at the forefront of ministries of mercy, both at home in their immediate localities, and often much further afield.
One such person is Dr. Josephine Munthali, a member of our church who is spearheading her own organisation dedicated to helping A.I.D.S orphans in her own home country of Malawi. Josephine arranges for children orphaned by A.I.D.S. to be fostered by members of their own community, so that they can stay in the environment in which they have been raised, and sends out containers of medical supplies, educational materials , toys, and sewing machines for the women to learn a trade. Last year, the significance of Josephine's work was recognised by First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, who invited Josephine to the G8 summit where she addressed Cherie Blair, Laura Bush and other leader's wives. The work is continuing to grow and flourish as Josephine lives out her christian faith in practical acts of mercy and compassion.
At the beginning of this year, the Women's Ministry of our church put out an information gathering questionnaire to the womenfolk. One of the questions was designed to find out whether women were involved in caring and compassionate ministries both within and outwith the church. The results nearly blew us away. Alison McPhail, who collated the results for us, eventually gave up trying to find a few categories to summarise the results, and instead presented us with a list of eighty different things the women are involved in. They ranged from involvement at the pregnancy crisis centre, massage for end-stage cystic fibrosis sufferers, cancer support charities, the homeless, to mercy missions and children's camps abroad. Without wanting to be self-congratulatory, it brought a huge lump to the throat as we began to realise the extent of women's care and compassion. It's a tremendous cause for thanksgiving and spur to aim even higher.
Now back to 'Madonna and child'. Personally, I am content to let judgement concerning the celebrity's actions fall to the God who sees and understands each of our hearts. But as Christmas approaches, I can't help but be struck by the contrast of this Madonna and Child story with one that happened two thousand years ago - the 'Really Real Madonna and Child', Mary and Jesus. She was no celebrity, but a peasant girl from a humble backgound with no riches or resources at her disposal. Yet she surrendered herself to God for his purposes, enduring condemnation, shame and the heartbreak of seeing her son Jesus crucified. And unlike the little boy David from Malawi, who has left a life of poverty for wealth and prosperity, Jesus left the riches of Heaven and became poor for our sake, being born in a humble stable - the ultimate rescue mission, with the ultimate price tag, his death on the cross that we might live.
In the midst of the run up to Christmas, with all the attendant rush and busyness of life, why not try to carve out some time to reflect on how, like Mary, we can surrender ourselves to God's purposes, and how we can pour ourselves out in a costly, Christ-like, sacrificial love?