Earlier this fall, I had one of the greatest joys a childless person could have—the joy of meeting my baby niece, of holding her while she slept, of gazing into her eyes as she gazed into mine, of seeing some of my own features in her tiny, puffy face. Little Lexi hadn’t been able to sleep unless she was held, so Tim and I took turns holding her so her mom could have something to eat and get some laundry done. My sister kept thanking us, but all I could feel was grateful to her, for bringing this tiny person into the world. I could never express the feeling of wonder as I gazed into her wondering eyes, or the beauty of a tiny human learning what it means to be human.
Tonight we hear again the wondrous story we know so well, of a poor newlywed couple, desperately young. We hear how they faced news of an unexpected pregnancy, how they made room among beasts of burden when they found the inn full-up to the rafters. We hear how Mary gave birth there, how mysterious beings announced the birth, how shepherds came to visit the new family.
I’m going to be totally frank with you: I don’t think God is too fussed about your take on religious doctrines like the Incarnation or the Trinity; that strikes me as a more human thing to worry about. I think God has something much simpler and much more profound in mind. I think God is saying: Come, meet this baby! Look at this baby, all red and wrinkly and noisy and needy, and know that this is a Child of Peace. Gaze into this baby’s eyes and see that this is not only a child of God, but a child of humanity, of our common humanity.
This baby is your very own baby, whom you would die to protect. This baby is the child you never had and yearned for all the same. This baby is your little brother, who will always look up to you and learn from you.
And this baby is a poor baby, a brown baby, the son of a man who works with his hands, a little boy who will grow up to work with his hands, too. This baby is homeless, birthed in a stable; thanks to the violence and fear of the powers that be, he is about to become a refugee.
This baby, who is a very specific human baby, is also every baby.
This baby is the sum of all our hopes and prayers for peace, an embodiment of the yearning of all people for their children and grandchildren to live in a time of peace.
This yearning is so strong that, when we come into the presence of the Christ Child, or any child, we become willing to lay down our weapons, whether metaphorical or actual, to put off our defensive coverings. The most powerful thing about babies is how powerless they are—they demand food, comfort, warmth, protection. Their eyes, gazing up at ours in wonder, call forth that same wonder: that humans—that all life—begins with such helplessness, such softness and need and innocence. In the presence of such helplessness and need, we become our best selves, mindful of our common fragility, using what strength we have to protect and care for each other, never to harm.
The medieval mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.” My prayer is that we live each day in the spirit of Christmas, that we become God’s mothers all year long, carrying and nurturing that tiny, fragile, gorgeous God. I pray each of us remember, especially in times of fear or anger, that every other person we see is also God’s mother; every single person, regardless of skin color or faith tradition or nationality or political party—each person is one who carries God, and in whom God’s spirit rests.
Tonight, as we light our many candles, look at each others’ faces. Fix the image in your heart. See the faces of your friends and neighbors shining in the candlelight. Imagine—or, if you’re lucky—remember them as they may have looked on the night they were born, and then remember that baby sleeping in a feeding trough. Let us look at each other tonight, and throughout the coming year, and see the face of the Christ Child shining out of every holy human soul. Amen.