She gave birth, wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger. It’s all rather matter of fact as St. Luke tells it (Luke 2:1-20; Christmas Eve). It sounds like it could be any birth. It was probably like a lot of births throughout the world today. A newborn, a blanket of sorts, and a makeshift crib. “Good news of great joy,” the angel called this birth. So what does this child bring us? He can’t walk or talk. He can’t feed or care for himself. He can’t really do much at all. Despite all this, however, the angel declares this child to be our Savior, our Messiah, our Lord. So what does he offer us? Why would God choose to come among us and enter our world as a newborn baby? What do we see in this child? What draws us to this night?
Let’s start with another child. Answer me this. What do you think your parents saw the very first time they gazed into your eyes? Imagine the hopes and dreams they held for you. Imagine the joy, happiness, and good things they wished for you. Imagine the potential and possibilities they saw in you. Imagine the life they wanted you to have. They saw all that and more. They saw beauty that has nothing to do with physical appearance. They saw holiness that has nothing to do with behavior or being good. They saw a miracle, the fullness of God’s life, contained in your little body.
Every one of us knows what it’s like to see that. We too have seen it, in ourselves and in others. Go back and look at one of your baby pictures. Look beyond what your life is right now. Go back to the beginning. Do you see it? Do you see what they saw? It’s all there: the dreams, the hopes, the possibilities, the potential, the beauty, the love, the innocence. That’s you. If you’re unable or unwilling to see it in yourself then go back to that day you first looked into the face of your child or grandchild. I know you saw it there. Recall the last baby you witnessed being baptized. It was there too. Think about a time you gazed into the face of a child you didn’t even know and would never meet. Maybe it was a kid on a playground or a baby being pushed in a basket at the grocery store. It was there too. Those anonymous faces revealed something attractive, familiar, and recognizable.
Remember what that was like? Remember how watching those babies and seeing those faces touched and affected you? Something caught and held your gaze. It re-energized and re-vitalized your life.
What do you make of that? What’s that about? It’s about more than being a parent or grandparent. It’s about more than cuteness and sentimentality. It’s about more than memories of the past. And it’s about more than the baby. The attraction and the reason we continue to look and are captivated in that gaze is because we have caught a vision larger than what we are seeing. Because we are standing in the midst of a revelation greater than the presence of a baby. In that moment of gazing we are being reminded of what we have forgotten. We are seeing a reality that we have sometimes ignored or been told doesn’t apply to us. We are learning a truth we may have never known before. In that gaze we have caught a glimpse of God become human. In that little face we are seeing Emmanuel, God with us. We are experiencing our truest and most authentic self. The fullness of our life is there and we are seeing all the possibilities of what might be. In that gaze we have touched the original beauty and holiness of our creation. That’s why God came among us as a baby. And that’s why we show up tonight, to gaze into the face of God’s child and see our own reflection.
Don’t think this holy night is only about the birth of Jesus. Let’s not limit this night to be only a celebration of what was. Let it also be our participation in what is and what might be. Let this holy child’s face show us the reality and truth of our own lives. In him we see all the goodness, love, holiness, beauty, and possibilities for life that we wish and want for ourselves. And it’s all there. It’s already there within us. We can only ever see and recognize that which we already know. So what we see in Jesus somehow already exists in us. It’s how we were created. It’s what God desires for us.
In some deep way this baby, the Christ child, shows us who we are, who we can become, and what our life is really about. His birth offers us a new beginning. Who among us here has not at some time or another wished, prayed, and struggled for a new beginning? Who among us has not wanted the chance to begin again? Not just to do different but to be different. This is our night, a festival of re-creation, a night of new beginnings.
This night Jesus has revealed the truth about humanity. Let us not hide.
In the child born this night we see our selves. Let us not turn away.
This is the child of peace. Let us not be violent or anxious.
This is the child of love. Let us not hate or be angry.
This is the child of compassion. Let us not be indifferent.
This is the child of gentleness. Let us not be harsh or hurtful.
This is the child of joy. Let us not be sorrowful.
Tonight divinity was wrapped in humanity. Let us be wrapped in divinity.
Tonight we behold the child. Let us become what we see.
Tonight a child is born to us. Let us claim our new beginning.