As I listen to both stories – the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and this lovely children’s story – they sound like stories written long after a birth. Stories written and told to put into words an event that cannot be described. To put into words what no parent ever feels adequate articulating to their child. The power of welcoming a child into the world.
Luke 2: 1-7
On the Day You Were Born (Debra Fraiser)
We know that the gospel story of Jesus’ birth arose decades after his actual birth. Outside his small family, the actual birth of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, would not have been a significant event – nor would any child’s birth in that age which was much less child centered.
This birth story developed after his ministry, death and resurrection. We don’t cringe at the fact that it’s not a literal account of his birth, because we know what the authors were doing – trying to bring meaning to the ineffable. We know that this story was part of a host of stories told to help make connections between a man, a rabbi, a suffering and compassionate leader – and the power of his love.
Likewise, this beautiful children’s story (On the Day You Were Born), written over 25 years ago, draws on the experience of many generations, across many cultures and traditions to communicate the power of our arrival into this world. It is one our family found shortly before our 3rd child was born, and has been a favorite ever since. It’s poetry and sentiment comes as close as anything I’ve read to capturing the essence of a parent’s experience of their child’s birth. I’m keenly aware that not all children are welcomed in this way. Not all birth parents have the capacity or wherewithal to honor and cherish a newborn’s arrival.
But we hope that every child is welcomed. “We’ve been waiting for you! You are part of a large family, a gracious earth and a love that has generations of experience behind it. Welcome.”
Few, if any, of us will have a book written about our infant birth; or even a ‘new birth’ in our adult lives. But in each of us, there is a story. There are characters. There is a receiving community.
A young adult friend of ours recently made the decision to move to Central America to teach young children. The preparation period and early stages of that experience have been transformational for her. Recently graduated from college, she’s jumped into yet another new experience, in a foreign language, in a somewhat troubled part of the world, seeking to be positive and hopeful amid both general violence in her new country and the experience of being robbed from her apartment.
She speaks of a profound love and compassion towards her students and her new county. The transformation within her, however, has been years in the making – through her family upbringing, her educational journey, and her walk of faith. All of those things, and many more, have planted seeds that are now coming to life.
The way she is finding her voice, claiming her passion is welcomed by the adults in her life. The welcome is an embrace of something unique and powerful to the world. The peers and adults who love her value how this transformation will impact us; and those she comes in contact with through her teaching and her serving. Our welcome of her new voice and agency are also predicated on the expectation that this one experience of transformation will enable additional transformations in the future.
This embrace of her young adult transformation is a way of saying, ‘welcome, we’ve been waiting for you.” Since your birth, and every day since then, we’ve known you possess beautiful gifts that the world needs. Indeed, that we need. We welcome and rejoice as we see these gifts come into focus.”
And in a strange and mysterious way, this young teacher is beginning to pay that welcome forward – as she welcomes the birthright gifts and talents of her students, even as she seeks to find her own way as an adult. Both teacher and student, as with Jesus in the biblical story and the infant in the children’s story, step into a stream of new birth and new life that started long before us and will continue long after us. No manner of moon and sun, animals and spinning stars, or generations of family can ever fully capture the meaning and power of these new births.
The original design of the season of Advent coupled the story of a birth (and the wait that comes with it) and the anticipation and work of God’s coming again into the world. The church has always combined waiting for God with seeking to bring about the kingdom or realm, ‘here on earth.’ We’ve waited on God’s Spirit while recognizing that God’s work in the world is done through our hands and feet and hearts.
“Coming God” we pray in our Joys and Concerns; believing that God is coming from outside us just as she is coming from within our very hearts.
SONG – We Are Waiting (written by The Many), sung by Mike Bjork
We are waiting for you
You are waiting for us
This is the Christmas waiting and working at the same time. “This is not a passive process of waiting for something to happen. It’s an active, hopeful preparing that we do in gratitude for the gift of the infant, of God becoming flesh and living among us.”
Jim Wallis of Sojourners writes that even in the face the trauma of this turbulent, exhausting and often traumatic year, we need to hold on to the promise of God’s coming and redemption for all people. Our work of protecting and advocating for the most vulnerable cannot let up. Despite a public face of Christianity that is often at great odds with our sense of God’s call, we must continue to let Christ’s light of truth shine in an environment poisoned with lies from the highest levels of worldly power. (Jim Wallis, Sojourners, January 2018, p.7).
Richard Rohr, priest, author and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM suggests our US culture is presently in a state of collective post-traumatic stress, what St. John of the Cross called a ‘dark night of the soul.’ In other periods of upheaval a light has shined in the darkness, seemingly from nowhere. For him, the reforms of Vatican II in the early 60’s were just that. Yet even this unexpected hope set up a subtle but real backlash during the next two popes. Then, 50 years later, Pope Francis appeared. Again, a light from nowhere.
As a culture, he continues, we are waiting for another light from nowhere, what we call grace. Chaos wearies the mind, the heart and the body – and we see evidence of this all around us. We are searching for solid ground. For many, the search moves us toward authoritarian saviors and demagogues; but it can also move us towards bursts and breakthroughs in consciousness and spirit that will chart a new course.” (Richard Rohr, Sojourners, January 2018, p. 8-9).
The Christmas paradox is that we are working for the realm to arrive while living in such an in between time, a liminal space, the threshold between two rooms. As we have often explored in this congregation, these liminal spaces, these thresholds are the place of in depth transformation. In waiting for God, and in God waiting for us, we remember no one person is in control, and that we are being guided by a larger force of Grace.
So when our faith tradition invites us to welcome the Christ child, we know it means we must pay attention for the ways God is coming into our world. It’s out of our control, but if we wait and watch, we can see and celebrate it when it comes.
When our faith traditions tells us to wait for God, we understand this is a call to live a different set of values that so much of the world around us. We know it is to live the values of a realm that is not yet here, but that can only come as we live it.
We are waiting for you.
You are waiting for us
With compliments to Michelle Hiskey (via Mike Mitchell) for this brilliant bit of theo-resistance:
And the angel appeared to Mary and said:
“Behold a FETUS is inside you and when you give birth you will call his name Jesus.
His life will change people of all kinds and one day, Mary, we will describe this as DIVERSITY.
He will challenge ENTITLEMENT and honor VULNERABILITY.
He will teach us how to embrace everyone in love, and this includes TRANSGENDER people.
And he will inspire EVIDENCE-BASED faith and many who follow him also will make important SCIENCE-BASED discoveries.
Do not be afraid!”