The second car I owned was a 1959 Austin [not a Mini, not a Healy, but a Cambridge]. My first car had been a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. Both vehicles had been pre-owned by my father and as he upgraded his vehicles I became his favorite son to whom the cast-offs were given [to be honest, I was his only son, and the so-called cast-offs were very gratefully received].
The Austin I viewed as a veritable step towards prosperity. I was in university at the time and was responsible for my own tuition. I continued to live at home with my parents so room and board were taken care of [very comfortably], but travel across the city to the campus posed as a major hassle – remedied by the gift of the Austin [as I recall the Chev was a bit of a gas guzzler and this poor university student could hardly pay the exorbitant gas prices back then as they “soared” to 31 cents per gallon]. The Austin was unique for me in many ways. It had a standard transmission [really, the only way to drive] and it had a crank [not me, the engine]. This latter feature came in full use during the winter months of my second university year [why do things always go wrong when the weather is at its worst?].
The problem began intermittently but developed to the point where I was unable to start the car conventionally using the ignition. I feared the worst: ignition and/or starting motor problems, or something even worse still [what that could be was beyond me for I knew absolutely nothing about cars and their engines, then and now]. What I did know is that whatever it was I probably could not afford to have it fixed. And what I discovered is that I could start the car by cranking the engine; simply put it into neutral, pile some text books on the gas pedal and crank away. Worked like a charm. And I became quite adept at this transaction. You could find me alone in the parking lot of the university late at night after classes, and after everyone else had gone home, cranking feverishly a very cold – no, frozen – automobile. You could also spot me in the middle of busy intersections carrying out this same routine when for some strange and inexplicable reason the car would stall [it had a rather delicate clutch].
I embraced this routine throughout the winter months and through to the spring. When summer arrived and I really began to work [for money] I decided to get the car fixed. The frustration of cranking a frozen, obstinate vehicle was one thing, but the embarrassment of doing so mid-intersection was quite another. It was past time to get the car fixed. And fixed it was, the mechanic charging me a few dollars for his efforts in discovering and reconnecting a single, detached wire to my starting motor.
I wonder how often it is in life that we make things so much more difficult, perhaps even impossible for ourselves, and all because of our preconceived notions and fears. We have not because we ask not, and we ask not because we have already, and all too easily, counted ourselves out. We think ourselves to be not worthy, or not well enough educated, or not nearly as powerful as we think we ought to be, or not this or not that. We are [as the Scriptures say] grasshoppers in our own sight. We are it seems our own worst enemies.
He was born in a stable with a manger for His bed. He entered this world which was His own yet it paid Him little notice. Life went on as usual. He did not come in such a way as to force Himself upon us. Not at all, for He Who was the very Word of God, came as a whisper in the night. When no one seemed to take notice, in the rather ordinariness of life, an extraordinary life was given for us all.
The birth of Jesus declares nothing less than this: that God has come to rescue us from ourselves. He comes among us to restore to us life itself – the life we were always meant to have, rather than that pale version for which we have so long settled. He comes with the promise of a new life for all who respond to Him. He comes with adoption papers in hand and with the offer of a relationship so rich and vibrant and secure and precious. And the manner of His birth along with the living and offering of His life tell us that there is simply no one so unworthy as to not receive all that He comes to offer. Shepherds heralded His arrival first, sinners followed Him, the weak and the broken and the shame-filled found strength and healing and release in Him. A penitent brigand cried out to him for mercy during the closing moments of his life and received the fullness of grace and pardon. And still today, He offers His risen life in exchange for that of the fallen one. His life for my life, and merely for the asking.