A Christmas Reading: Holding the Baby Ourselves (2005)
Nativity scenes and crèches always seem so quiet, calm, peaceful, a still tableau. But I am sure that all the animals are shifting around, and making their animal noises, while the chickens fly up and walk along the edge of the manger, and the dogs are taking offense at this and barking and jumping up at them to get them down.
I think about being there, back on that day, so succinctly and sparingly described in the gospels, when Jesus and Mary and all the brother and sister animals, and the shepherds and the Kings of Wisdom all converged on that one tiny little stable to be with a new mother and her new baby. And there I am, lurking in the corner, fleece parka, maybe some of those Timberland boots, blue jeans and all. Haven’t you ever had that thought? I want to be there in the stable.
I would be helpful and appropriate, I promise. I would run and get some water and boil it on a campfire outside, and then get some towels from whatever linen closet they would have at the Inn, because I know that you need hot water and towels to have a baby. And I would keep the animals back and away from Mary during Labor. And I would have one of those man to man conversations with Joseph as he waited for his first child, re-assuring him that while his life would be very different once the baby came, it would be better. I would try to remember those breathing exercises, and if I could remember them, I hope that they would be useful. If I could be there, I am sure that I could think of something to do that would help.
And in return, I would ask for only one thing. Sometime, during that night, Mary and Joseph, would you let me hold the baby?
Is there anything in this world like holding a newborn baby? The way that their eyes search through a world of strange shapes and bright colors, and finally settle on your eyes, making human contact. They seem to be little ships slowly coming out of the fog of where ever it is that they are coming from into the safer harbor of the human family. The way that their bodies fit so naturally to our arms, settling into the curves and hollows of the body, the tiny perfect fingers, the scrunched up little faces. They make you want to scrunch up your face and say “ooooooo” and shudder yourself.
And such dense bundles of mighty power, all held in your arms. When you hold a baby, there in your arms is the seed of what could be a long life, all the works and deeds of a lifetime, all the people to be touched and changed and loved by this little person here. You think of the many more babies that may be born because this baby, the one here in your arms, will have lived. You think of all the music to be sung by them, all the beauty to be created by them, all the wondrous inventions and discoveries they will make. You hold a baby, you hold an unlimited future.
To have held that baby that night. G. K. Chesterton writes that after the story of that night was told, we will always make the remarkable association between divinity and infancy, and always see something holy in a picture of a mother holding a baby in her arms. Because of that baby and that mother and that night.
And it then follows to me that since all of us, even the most difficult and the most despised among us were once just babies too, that the power of that one baby is that He calls us to hold each one in our arms as a precious gift.
The story says that the shepherds and the foreign kings all worshipped the Baby Jesus. That doesn’t sound right to me, or it sounds incomplete or inaccurate, actually more distant and disembodied to me. I am sure that there was more touching involved, more cuddling, more baby holding going on than what the gospel writers have included in their stories. There was a circle of love formed there, a communion of caring, and it is into that communion that I wish to be.
-- Christmas Communion Homily, 2005