by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on Christmas Day, December 25, 2016 at
First Church in Sterling, MA
Carl Seaburg says that a baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.
I remember being abundantly, 8 months pregnant with my first child when I attended the funeral of my best friend from high school’s brother. He had taken his own life, and it was the most senselessly tragic day, with hundreds of mourners pouring in to give their respects. Including gigantically pregnant me. I was so conspicuously, garishly, audaciously full of life on a day of profound death and mourning that I was guilty and embarrassed to be there.
God keeps audaciously, conspicuously, garishly telling us that life must go on in that way. That babies must be born in the midst of tragedy and war and despair, which is exactly the conditions under which Jesus was born. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And his name shall be called Wonderful.
Gifts come in the form of things we didn’t expect; their arrival announced at the worst possible times and places.
Jacob Marley came to bring Scrooge “Good News” of the ghosts that will come to visit him in the beginning of Scrooge’s harrowing, transformative evening. That was what constituted a gift that year….terrifying ghosts to remind him of his excesses and greed.
And I don’t know about you, but my greatest gifts didn’t always seem like gifts at the time.
It’s similar with the Christmas story.
I imagine the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary and saying something like, “Mary, greetings, o favored one, the Lord is with you. Which do you want first, the bad news or the good news?”
And Mary says….hmmm, I guess I’ll take the bad news first.
I imagine Angel Gabriel saying: “Well, the bad news is that you’re poor, you’re a teenager, you’re not yet married to your betrothed, Joseph, whom you haven’t had intercourse with yet, and he may be really, really mad at you when he finds out the good news and not want to marry you.”
And Mary says, “Well, what’s the Good News then?”
And Angel Gabriel says: “You’re pregnant! But do not be afraid, the baby is God’s!”
And Luke goes on to say that Mary was “troubled.” Yeah, I don’t blame her. Good News doesn’t always sound like Good News.
The best gifts I have ever been given all came in the form of a pregnancy followed by a birth. And one of those gifts was a total surprise. I found out I was pregnant with Isaac while I was in the midst of transition. Newly divorced, I lived with my Andy, but we were not married yet. In fact, I was under the illusion that we were “taking things slowly.” And surprise! Good News!
Of course, my little Isaac was born as a healing in my family: a resurrection. A bridge from my daughters to my sweet husband, connecting us all in shared lineage and blood. Isaac brought us all back to life.
“A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.”
I have talked to more than one of you who have adult children, who this past month have given up on the idea of bringing children into this uncertain, divided, beautiful and terrible world.
I imagine that is exactly how Mary felt, terrified and great with child, made to register, finding no room at the inn. The child was born anyway, as a bridge and a healing. Jesus was born into this hurting world to bring hope to all people that we might inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus was born into a world of despair and raging petulant murderous kings to bring us back to life.
A baby can do that. A baby can bring us back to life. Like Tiny Tim brought Scrooge back to life. Born to save us all.
A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on—that hope will be born in the most unlikely places at the worst possible times.
Let that impossible hope be born in all of us this Christmas Day. Let love win. Let life win.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org