Now, at long last, the waiting and watching is done, and a child is born.
You know, there comes a moment for every new parent when, after all the months of waiting, worry and preparation have passed, the baby’s been born, and now, finally you’re finally holding this bundle of life in your arms. It’s an incredible experience – one that I’ve been through myself three times over – and at the heart of it, it’s kind of a reality check: because for months all you’ve thought about and talked about and anticipated is this child’s arrival into the world, but now, seemingly all of a sudden, here’s this… baby!
And you marvel at it; about how very tiny and frail and light a baby can be, just how marvelously and intricately perfect those little fingers and toes are, and how even moments after the birth you start to pick out the small family resemblances: the mother’s nose, the father’s ears, a full head of hair or lack thereof! You realize what a miracle of creation a baby is, and think how it’s impossible to see a baby and not believe in God. You literally sit there awestruck; and in a fleeting moment, you wonder who this little person who lay asleep in your arms will grow up to be. What child is this, and how will his or her life unfold?
I have to imagine that on that silent, holy night so long ago, Mary and Joseph must have been filled with the same kind of wonder – and asking the same questions. After all, thus far none of this had happened the way Mary or Joseph would have planned it – she should have had this child at home, with the birth attended by a midwife and with loving family members nearby; not amidst farm animals in a cold, dark and damp stable out in back of an overcrowded inn in Bethlehem, of all places! But then again, who would expected a birth announcement courtesy of an angelic choir, a star shining like a beacon above them, or an entourage of shepherds arriving in the dead of night, just because they’d heard “good” news about this baby and had to see for themselves! This had not been an ordinary birth; but then, this was no ordinary child.
Luke tells us in his gospel that none of these things were lost on Mary: the shepherds’ words, the angels’ songs, the prophecies that were coming to pass in her very sight, the Holy Spirit that had made it all happen – we’re told she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” But you have to imagine that as the silent night gave way to the dawning of a new morning, there were more immediate things to consider; and in fact, as Mary and Joseph gazed in utter amazement at this living, breathing, crying, needful child before them, the thing on which they pondered the most was on who this tiny person looking back up at them from the manger was going to be… “What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping …whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping …why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?”
Who is this baby that has come so fully and profoundly into our lives?
What child is this? Tonight, that’s our question, too. In one sense, that’s the reason we come to this place in the dark of the night, so that we might gather at the light of the stable, perchance to gaze upon this wonderful child and ponder on this very question: what child is this who has been born so silently, yet so powerfully and profoundly, unto the world and into our lives? Who is this babe, the son of Mary?
After all, this is the one whom the prophet Isaiah proclaimed would be named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” the one on whose shoulders all authority shall rest and grow continually, the one who shall rule over a kingdom of endless peace, upheld with justice and righteousness “from this time onward and forevermore.” This is the one that the angel Gabriel told Mary would be called the “Son of the Most High;” the child who is, as the angel described him to Joseph, Emmanuel, which means “God Is With Us.” This is the “Word made flesh [that has] lived among us,” (John 1:14) what Paul described to the Hebrews as “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Hebrews 1:3) He is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); He is the light of the world that enlightens all humanity; He is the bright new morning star; He is the Bread of Life, and the source of Living Water; He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley; He is the Good Shepherd; the Savior and Pioneer of the Church; King of Kings and Lord of Lords; love Divine and love incarnate; He is the Messiah; the Christ of Christmas, and the Conqueror of death; He is the way and the truth and the life…
…and …he’s a baby!
…a tiny, helpless infant who is the Son of God, and whose presence gives us the power “to become children of God.”
When you’re holding a newborn, you wonder about what this child will become; and you think a bit of what it’s going to be for you as that child lives and grows, because there’s a long road ahead. But mostly, you just marvel in the moment, and the utter “newness” of it all; and right then, that’s enough. Indeed, there was much ahead for Mary and Joseph – living as refugees in a foreign land fearing for their lives; seeing this baby grow into an adult and fulfilling a divine purpose; and then finally, for Mary the piercing heartbreak of watching him die on a cross for the sake of the world. But that was years away, and far from this manger where the three of them huddled together “in heavenly peace,” this tiny child who would forever live in the hearts of not only two new parents, but also the hearts of all people everywhere.
That’s who this child is, beloved; this little one who changes the world just by his being, and who continues even on this holy night to move and shape the living of our lives, both yours and mine. Who this child becomes for us, beloved, unfolds with every passing day: the lessons he’ll teach us, the challenges he’ll make to our comfortable ways of thinking, the choices he’ll set before us in the temples and marketplaces of our daily work, and the call and claim he’ll make on our very lives; the difference this tiny little baby will make in us as he grows up will be considerable, and and even life-changing.
But that will come in time. Tonight is a time for pondering the wonder of it all. So let us come and adore him; let us take the angels’ proclamation to heart and not be afraid, rejoicing in the good news: that “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”
Thanks be to God…
And Merry Christmas. AMEN!
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry