Most of us have heard this birth story all our lives. Mary, Joseph, stable, baby. It’s a great story, very familiar. But we’re in a different space and time this year: we’re in lockdown. We have come through racist murders of Black people, an election, wildfires, mounting deaths from the coronavirus. Maybe you’re alone, or sick with COVID-19, or have cancer, or are unemployed, or you’re grieving, or this, or that, or the other. Maybe, on the other hand, you have a new job, or you’ve enjoyed the opportunity to slow down a bit, or you’re attending worship from out of town because as of this year that’s even a thing. Like a pregnant woman, we have spent the past nine months waiting. How does this space and this time change the way we hear this story?
Well, let’s see what resonates. Once upon a time, it was the year of the census. Everybody was supposed to be counted. Strangers were flocking into the city, and they had to get counted, too. The city was so crowded that housing everyone was a big issue. People were staying anywhere and everywhere. Not everyone was crazy about the crowding. I mean, there goes the neighborhood, right? Can’t play in the parks or walk down the street in certain neighborhoods without running into people living there, in unsanitary and desperate conditions.
In the middle of all this mayhem, a young woman gives birth. She’s nobody special, from some backwater place. But someone finds her a barn, or these days let’s say a garage, or a tent, or a tiny house—someplace where she and her partner and the baby can have a speck of privacy. The couple don’t have health care, so it’s a good thing the birth comes off without incident.
Maybe the baby is Black, or Brown, or White. Most babies are red when they’re first born. Maybe the baby’s name is Jesus, or Joshua, … or Jamal. Or maybe that’s not right at all, and the baby’s name is Tanisha, or Tamar, or Theresa.
And in the midst of all the mayhem of this time and this place—coronavirus, unemployment, all the things I just mentioned—in the midst of all that, everyone who sees this baby has to stop. Hello baby. Welcome to the world. You are so beautiful, so precious, so innocent. We gaze into those eyes that stare silently, intently back at us, and we see the eternal right there. Where did you just come from, little friend? What are you going to do with this amazing gift of life? And why do you look at me as if I might matter?
We feel our own hearts break wide open. We feel a smile come that we haven’t felt in a while. We want to do something—for this baby in this moment, and maybe also for babies everywhere. Every baby is a miracle of the eternal and the Divine. So someone says, “I just did laundry—here’s a clean t-shirt to wrap up that baby so it doesn’t catch cold.” Someone else brings takeout Thai food for the new family. People step up with whatever gifts they have on hand—a little money, a coat, sleeping bags, a tent. It may not be the red carpet, but the family has what they need.
A new baby fills us with hope, peace, joy, and love. We may feel moved to build a better world for the baby to live in—a world without border walls and separated families; a world without racism; a world in which everyone has enough to eat, work worth doing, health care, education. A little boy in Harlem once said, “Jesus is God with skin on.” When we meet babies, no matter what color that skin is, we see that divine spark in them. And we might also remember that this divine spark is in us, too—all of us.
In the film Children of Men, no children have been born in 18 years. The world is falling apart. People have all taken sides and are fighting in the streets. Buildings are in ruins. But then, miraculously, one woman gives birth, and that baby, like so many, enters the world crying mightily. That sound is magnified through the empty hallways. The people who are fighting—the people who are doing their best to kill each other—hear this sound echoing through a wrecked, abandoned building. They haven’t heard a baby’s cry in 18 years. All fighting stops. Everyone is brought back to the sacredness of humanity, the possibility in all of us to create a just and beautiful world full of potential for everyone. Oh, that’s right. We had forgotten who and whose we are.
Sometimes what is needed before a new thing can come is a time of emptying out of the old things. This has been a year of emptying. Schools are empty. Offices and churches are empty. Streets are empty. Garages full of junk have been emptied and reorganized during our time of self-isolation.
We are not the people we were back in March. We have been emptying out the old ways, the old things, and waiting for the new. On this night, we open ourselves to welcome that new baby into our lives—into our hearts and souls. Like Mary, our souls magnify God and our spirits soar with the potential for what is possible.
Let us dwell in this place of magnified Divine presence, where every person represents the possibility of God-with-us, of new beginnings and a future full of justice and peace. Christ is born—in you, and you, and you, and you, and me. Let us awaken to the possibility of God’s magnified presence in each of us and in this broken world. May we be bringers of healing and hope, love and lunch, reconciliation and rest. That Christ child in all of us calls for it to be so. Welcome, baby Jesus. We’ve been waiting for you. Amen.