What did you want for Christmas this year?
Bet you didn’t think of a baby.
The things we want for Christmas come wrapped in FedEx boxes and tissue paper or stuffed into gift bags. What we want for Christmas usually gives us a break, makes us feel beautiful, tastes good or hold our pants up. What we want for Christmas makes life easier, less complex, or painful.
In case you didn’t notice, this does not describe a baby.
A post-modern meme going around portrays blue-robed Mary and kindly husband Joseph in Renaissance period setting. They peer with wonder and awe into an Amazon box, from which emerges the fists of a tiny infant. “Darn it,” Joseph proclaims, “Darn it, Alexa, I ordered cheeses.”
Cheeses, after all, are a lot easier to take care of than a baby. Babies sometimes smell as ripe as some cheeses, but we have to feed babies – not the other way around. Babies don’t help us get our house in order. They don’t take care of our car or our sheep herd. They demand so much attention we have less time for all those things. Babies don’t make life simpler. They complicate life.
Yet, this is what God sends us at Christmas. God gives us an infant.
Oh, don’t let those Christmas carols confuse you with the “no crying he makes” hyperbole. Jesus was a baby. Like every other baby before or since the Savior of the world made a ruckus when he wanted to, spit-up where no one wanted him to and couldn’t do a blessed thing for himself. We can pretty it up all we want and ignore the messy parts of birth and baby care, yet there is no way of getting around the announcement – the spectacle – of the great good news for all people as a helpless human being.
This was not some embarrassing miscalculation in the divine plan. It is not a glitch in the salvation story to be tidied up in scratchless straw and leak-proof diapers, admired and cooed over, then whisked aside until the work of teaching, healing, miracles, and sacrifice takes center stage.
Darn it. This is just what God ordered. Listen! Unto you is born this day a child. A child who is the Savior. A baby who is Christ the Lord.
God comes to us. God comes to us – to all people – whether we have been waiting and watching, bearing the divine in our being for nine months or ninety years. God comes to us even if we have only been hanging out with our sheep, going where we are told to go.
God comes to us because Lord knows, most of us do not come to God. We don’t come to God because most of us think one of us is too high and mighty to need the other. Or we have determined that the way of God is too demanding. God is too much of a commitment.
True. All true.
So, God comes to us.
God comes to us a child. God gives us a baby, one who inhabits our flesh, our bodies, our brains, who experiences the pleasures, joys, and trials of this life. This infant is a fully divine being. He will follow God so faithfully the heavens will open, and the grave will open, and new and everlasting life will be poured out from his body and his spirit.
God comes to us. God gives to us. God trusts us.
Can you believe it? God’s confidence in us is more of a miracle than a holy birth, I think. God trusts us to take care of this new life. God’s child. It is an astounding responsibility placed on us – a weighty expectation.
Maybe this is why we gussy up the baby Jesus for photo ops and hurry past this part of the story. God has trusted us with new life, and we have work to do. The work of caring for the vulnerable. The effort of feeding the hungry who haven’t learned good manners. The need to get smart about how to outsmart the powerful who intend no good for goodness.
God trusts us to do this. God does. God believes we are up to the task. Darn it. God sent us Jesus. Expecting – not just Mary and Joseph, but us – yes, you and me – to take care of this new life. Here’s a secret you may know: we only trust so greatly those we love greatly. God loves us so much, God trusts us with the new life of God.
So, here is some advice when caring for new life.
First, remember it is hard to mess up caring for an infant. Pediatrician Scott Goldstein, at Northwestern’s School of Medicine and father of three, explains: “There are many shades of gray when it comes to things like how to get a baby to sleep, to eat and to develop in the best way possible… This means that by doing what you feel comfortable with, you — and your baby — will almost always be just fine.” When caring for the new life we receive at Christmas, his advice is also true. Don’t let anyone guilt or shame you into doing it just one way. Love the new life entrusted to your care and find your own way – to share good news, create hope, nurture peace.
However, there is a mantra to adopt when an infant comes into the household: people over things. Infants don’t care if there are dishes in the sink, and the car is 15 years old. They just want to be held and rocked, loved and cared for. God trusts us with divine human life, so it’s “people before things.” Relationship before rules, presence before possessions. Babies just want us, and God just wants us to want to be with the new life born into this world.
Now, thankfully there a lot of practical people in the world. Let’s notice taking care of human beings does require taking care of things. Babies need food, not just rocking. New life needs infrastructure not just hugs. In God’s economy, though, the things – the stuff – are cared for in pursuit of caring for people, not the other way around.
Ready for the final good advice? Every new parent has heard it. Sleep when the baby is sleeping. Oh, it is so hard to do because…refer back to all the things to be taken care of… But oh, we need our rest. We need our rest to be ready to love and care for new life.
Which is why we are here tonight, isn’t it? To rest. To be restored by resting in the sight of the king of kings lying in a manger. To rest in the wonder of great good news wrapped in swaddling clothes. What a gift! Revel in it. Appreciate every golden glorious gleaming moment of it.
Because the baby will wake. And God is trusting us. God has come for us. God has given us a gift.
Darn it. It is Jesus. It is Jesus we wanted all along.