This time last year, I was just coming back from maternity leave and Christmas Eve was the first time I preached since becoming a mother. I think of Mary this night starting on that same journey of sleeplessness and balancing priorities and the wonder and love she felt every time she looked at her baby and the questions in her mind about whether she was doing it right.
When you are expecting, everyone tells you that life will never be the same. My favorite was the guy at Eastport Plaza who took one look at me, 8 ½ months pregnant and said, “Good luck with that.” Everyone knows life will never be the same. I wonder how many times Mary heard that. She certainly would have been aware of that. She would have seen that in the lives of aunts and cousins. She would have experienced it in her body. She would have expected it since her pregnancy was so different from others, no husband, the looks, the ostracism, the questions, “You expect us to believe what?”
Life will never be the same! For a long time I heard that as a warning. No more going to the movies. No more sleeping in. No more time to read for your own pleasure. Instead you’ll be reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” over and over and you’ll wake up in the night with “Little Red Caboose” stuck in your head. No more time to curl your hair. Be glad if you can get out of the house without spit-up and snot on your clothes. Every outing will have to revolve around nap and feeding schedules. Life will never be the same.
Some people see the Christian life this way. Go to meetings. Get “A Mighty Fortress” stuck in your head. Be wracked with guilt over whether you did what Jesus would do or not. Be burdened by having to give an offering. Read a boring devotional book. Give up all the time you’d be having fun and spend it volunteering and hearing what a sinner you are. Become a Christian and your life will never be the same—you won’t have a life.
What I’ve found, becoming a mother, is that life isn’t the same in ways I didn’t really expect. I’ve found a depth of wonder and love that I didn’t know before. And it isn’t just about my amazing baby, but about everyone I meet and all the people of the world. I find myself imagining the people I know as infants, full of wonder, curious, toddling about, delighting in the most ordinary things. I imagine you all babbling and trying new sounds. I imagine you dumping everything off the coffee table. I imagine you falling and hitting your head and being rocked and comforted. It is just a complete switch of perspective. Because I see all of you this way, I see you as vulnerable and small. I see how you started out and what made you who you are, at least in my imagination. I like you even more than I did before. And I see myself small and exploring, testing my parents, trying out language and food. And I am more forgiving of myself, able to let go of my flaws and mistakes. I see us all as toddlers exploring this world and I find myself more ready and able to love.
I also find myself joined to mothers and to some extent fathers. Most mothers see with these eyes and know what I am coming to know, something that can’t be taught, but only experienced. I see myself in every mother I meet. I even feel connected to Rose-Tu, the new elephant mother at the zoo. I have some idea of what she sees when she looks at that baby of hers. I have some idea of the depth of love that she feels. I think mothers and fathers also know a hint of the love that God has for us as the one who gave us life.
I am learning that a child doesn’t just disrupt your life. A child enriches your life and deepens it and makes it more meaningful and full.
And isn’t the Christian life partly a matter of perspective, too. Yes, it isn’t convenient all the time, but little is that is really meaningful. Instead of seeing it as a long list of duties, those who know God’s love, the deep satisfaction of giving of yourself, and the help that a community can be when you really need it, won’t see it as a burden, but as a joy.
Jesus is being born a baby in our midst. It is a disruption. We might be grumpy this time of year when some come to church out of obligation. We might feel the burden of having to sit through a family meal with people we don’t necessarily like. We face the financial cost. We get things we’ll never use. People drive like maniacs. The music in the stores is apt to drive you nuts.
to get out of our rut and everyday way of doing things. We need to open our eyes and see the world the way a baby does with curiosity and wonder and hope. We need to sing a new song now and then. We need to light a candle and open ourselves up to God’s presence and let ourselves dream and hope for something truly good. When Christ is born in our lives, suddenly we are all being born and reborn in Bethlehem that night. God is bringing us to birth. God is looking down at this newborn and rejoicing and expectant and hopeful. God knows it will be many sleepless nights that he will be pacing the floor when we are sick or worried or stupid, but it is all worth it. God is our mother, our father. We see God in every mother and father.
God is also our brother, born that day, one of us, to face all we face and experience everything we experience, to allow his heart to be broken, to be one of us, small, poor, exhausted, and also joyful. In everyone we meet we see a brother, we see Jesus. It changes everything.
Christmas is inconvenient. Living a Christian life is inconvenient. Think how inconvenient it was for God: The creator of the universe, born to a teen mom and unwed parents, born naked and howling in a barn—no nursery with a bassinette and changing table, learning to walk and talk and play with the other children, growing up in a world that thought of him as weird, being mocked, rejected, and killed. And yet he never complained, never gave up on his goal which was to reach us with love and to teach us to love.
Christ is born this night. You and I are being born this night. We have a second chance to see this world in a new way. We are reborn sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, children of God, bearers of light. We are made to perceive light and love in one another, to share light and love with each other. We are here, mere toddlers, in awe of the sights and sounds around us, staring into the faces of family and friends to understand how we fit in, trying new words, new steps to express the depth of all our emotions. God is trying to teach us to walk and talk and share. We are reborn parents, seeing again for the first time, and loving this baby Jesus who does change our life, who allowed himself to be inconvenienced so that we would know that our convenience is not what it is all about, but light and love.
Something new is being born this night. Life will never be the same. Let this birth change your life into one of thankfulness and praise.