Third Sunday in Advent, Joy
Babies are a wonder. It is no secret that one of my favorite pastoral roles is presenting our babies and children to you on Parent/Child Dedication Sundays. There is just something sacred about holding a baby or young child in your arms. The miracle they represent—their tiny hands and feet, uniquely formed eyes and noses and mouths—is simply captivating. And it is even more amazing to look into their eyes and realize that within their perfectly formed bodies lives a spirit and a soul. Every time I hold a baby in my arms and walk her or him around this sanctuary, I wonder: What will her life be like? What will his interest be? Will she discover a cure for cancer? Will he become an artist or dancer? Will she be a pastor? Will he be a teacher? Babies offer such possibility and potential; such wonder and amazement; such love and joy.
As odd as it may sound for me to say in this season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, very rarely do I think about Jesus the baby. For forty-seven weeks of the year I am engaged in and focused on stories of his life and ministry as an adult—healing the sick, taking on the powers and principalities of his world, speaking words of hope to those who are suffering, spending time with the oppressed and marginalized. The baby Jesus is not the Jesus I think of most often. So when I come to this time of year, there is a bit of a disconnect. To go backwards in Jesus’ life feels strange.
As I was thinking about and feeling this disconnect this week, I had an “ah-ha” moment. It occurred to me that in the midst of so much pain and suffering in the world, so much chaos and confusion, so much death and destruction, so much war and violence, so much darkness and hopelessness that I, that we, really do need the reminder, if only once a year, of all the things that the baby Jesus represents and symbolizes. We need the baby Jesus to remind us that, indeed, God is with us, that life is full of possibility and potential, that there is tenderness and innocence in this world, that love is real and in the flesh, that wonder and amazement are tangible, that miracles do happen, and that it is okay to feel the joy that comes when we hold babies in our arms and look into their faces and wonder about the possibilities.
I’m not sure how often I really allow myself to feel that kind of joy. It does, indeed, seem hard when there is so much pain and suffering in the world. But for the next several weeks it is my intent to engage in and focus on the baby Jesus. For sure, I will return to the adult Jesus—to following his ways and teachings. For now, however, it seems appropriate to simply focus on welcoming the newborn babe lying in a manger and to feel the joy that comes in doing so. Someone said to me just recently: “Maybe if we can learn how to love the baby Jesus we can better understand how to follow the adult Jesus.” It is my prayer that each of us may take time this holy season to hold the baby Jesus—all the things his birth represents—in our arms and feel the hope and peace, the joy and love that came into the world, and still comes into our world, through him.
Here’s a pretty little baby! Look in the manger! Behold, believe, and be baptized!
Call to Prayer
With all the concerns and joys we hold in our hearts we pray, remembering that no thought or feeling is too small to name before God, no fear too great, and no regret to shameful. In prayer, we are reminded that God loves us and holds us just as we are.
In these moments, O God, we pause
to recall your coming into our world,
to sing songs of your joy and love,
and to pray for your peace and hope.
With your coming you brought light into a dark world;
joy into a painful world;
hope into a fearful world;
love into a lonely world;
and peace into a warring world.
Help us this day to remember your gifts of hope, peace, joy and love. Help us to remember that your advent into our lives is the promise of life.
God in the flesh—in a baby—give us the courage in these days to prepare a manger where you might be born in us, rather than keeping you enshrined in a religion and belief, safely distant from where we live and move and have our being. This Advent, O God, while reverently telling the ancient story of your coming, show us a way to prepare our hearts so that once again your peace may be born in us and in our world.
In the name of the One who continues to come to us in surprising and unexpected ways, we pray.