In Advent and Christmas we consider the coming of a child into our world. This year such considerations are 24/7 realities in my life since Allison and I received our first child, Estella Mae, less than three weeks ago. Unto us a child is born! I cannot help but reflect afresh on the coming of the child who invites all the world to echo Isaiah 9:6 with the energy of Handel’s Messiah, “Unto us a child is born!”
After long expectancy, trying labor, and the wonder of delivery, our beautiful baby finally arrived. Everything we had looked forward to and prepared for had happened, yet it was clear that we weren’t done. We had a baby, but this journey was just beginning. Our wonder was joined by wondering, “Now what?!”
This is even truer in the birth of Jesus.
Mary’s and Joseph’s expectancy was as long as anyone’s and must have felt longer given the social stress caused by what surely looked like a suspicious pregnancy. The labor and delivery not only lacked a hospital, they lacked even the basic hospitality of the time. The wonder of finally seeing their particularly unique child was beyond description and could only be treasured in the heart. The child had come, and I can easily imagine Mary and Joseph wondering, “Now what?!”
Some of the baby “now whats” begin quickly and are deeply enjoyable. Mary wrapped her baby in swaddling cloths, and we do too; holding a bundled baby is the best! (How Mary managed this without velcro is beyond me!) Mary laid her baby down to rest, and we do too, although we opt for a portable bassinet and gliding swing rather than a manger. Having a baby makes you very popular and brings numerous visitors. “O Come Let Us Adore” is exactly what you want to do when blessed with an adorable baby. We have enjoyed this baby “now what,” even if our guests have not been as exotic as Mary’s and Joseph’s. Perhaps the most remarkable “now what” of a baby is the outpouring of gifts, which can only be described as lavish. Jesus got gold, frankincense, and myrrh; Estella tends to get clothing and headwear of all sorts, usually in one of the surprisingly many shades of pink. We also have received helpful generosity in the form of coordinated meal service.
Not all baby “now whats” are so fun, though. “Silent Night” – yeah right! The song suggests that baby Jesus doesn’t cry even when awakened by cattle; Estella is noisy even when she is sleeping! As amazing as holding a baby is, it is always temporary. The demands of feeding, diapering, bathing, work, self-care, and remembering that other people still exist are “now whats” that simply don’t allow uninterrupted cuddling. Despite powerful protective instincts, we must learn to let our child engage the larger world, including its many dangers.
A grim but true “now what” is that we must prepare our child to one day face this world without us. All parents die, and one in twenty children loses a parent before turning 16. Inheritance of Hope exists to serve families facing this grim reality. What does this have to do with Christmas? The child for whom Christmas is named knows what it is to lose a young parent – we have no evidence that Joseph was around for Jesus after he was 12 years old. We don’t know the details, but Jesus was without a parent well before he began his public ministry. Although there is certainly glory in Christmas, we must remember that the birth of the Christ child involves grim realities as well as glorious ones. The Christmas baby lost a young parent.
Unto us a child is born… now what?! Now glory and grimness intermingle, and we have to navigate both. We can learn from the example of the magi in Matthew 2. In their quest to find the Christ child, they first encounter Herod. Could there be a better representative of grim reality than Herod? The magi tell him of their quest to find and worship the glorious new “king of the Jews,” and Herod’s reaction is so averse that “all Jerusalem” is troubled with him. The people fear what Herod might do to protect his own claim to kingship, fears that are fully justified when he slaughters all male children in the age and region he deems a threat.
Despite encountering this dark figure and his disturbing manipulations, the magi continue their journey to Christ. When their guiding star brings them to the child, their reaction pushes the limits of emphatic grammar – “They rejoiced excessively with great joy!” (Matthew 2:10) The magi come face to face with the very personification of grimness, yet they persevere in seeking the very personification of glory. Having experienced both realities, they choose to respond with language-stretching rejoicing.
We had a baby… now what?! Unto us a child is born… now what?! Now, let us be diligent in the not-so-silent nights and days so that we grow our capacity to adore the child. Now, let us form communities that care for the child even when a parent can no longer be present. Now, let us choose to rejoice, not because we pretend all is glorious, but because we know God is gloriously with us (Immanuel) and is working to redeem even the grimmest parts of our reality. Let us choose to rejoice, and not half-heartedly either – rejoice excessively!
“Joy to the World,” indeed!
(And now, please indulge a proud new dad to share one baby picture!)
Aaron is Inheritance of Hope’s Technology and Support Director and has served since 2008.
|Unto us a child is born, and we are rejoicing!|