It’s perhaps the most powerful image I can imagine and I have trouble sleeping without it. I hope for many thousands of days for her, for countless nights of easy slumber and untroubled rest. I know there is no guarantee for this; that, in fact, even the likelihood is small. But it’s a hope I hold with every ounce of my blood and will. And I hold that hope because I can see her sleeping each night. For me, every night is a holy night.
It is fitting that Christmas is about a baby. Not just any baby, of course, but it might as well be about any baby for all I care. Before I became a parent, Christmas seemed like a prelude to the larger narrative of Jesus, a necessary introduction to the amazing Passion narrative that results in our salvation. I suppose that’s fine, but it wore thin after countless repetitions sullied by the darkness of suffering in my life. But now the Christmas story no longer needs to be attached to the whole narrative. For me, it stands alone very nicely now. It is the story of new life, of hope in a transformed future, of endless possibilities. It is the story of how humankind feels when we gaze upon a sleeping child and imagine what could and should be possible for all children. That people of all walks of life came to the manger to see this child – dirty, smelly, poor shepherds; exotic, wealthy, scholars; indeed, the angelic creatures of the heavens themselves – speaks to the universal power of this image. It would seem that no matter who you are or where you’re from, a newborn child means promise.
It also means commitment, responsibility, and action. The shepherds, magi and angels all went to great efforts to see this little baby, not to mention the efforts of the child’s parents. Who of us, when accessing our better selves in grace and love, can gaze upon a young child and not be moved to act? Whether in the comfort of a tender touch to her hair or in the internal conviction to become a better person and parent or in dedicating oneself to speaking up for justice in the world, who could be in touch with their own sense of compassion and not be moved forward in hope and longing to care for a child?
And that God comes to us like this, as a child in need of love and care? What is God saying to us? What does God want us to learn by making the very essence of divinity such a vulnerable and helpless creature? Indeed, is God’s love simply something in which we are meant to bask and revel? Or is it something we are called to nurture and sustain?
When I see my child sleeping in her crib, my heart swells to bursting with my hopes and dreams for her. I am amazed that I have been entrusted this fleshy bundle of life and world-changing possibility. Every night I feel a renewed commitment to making a way for my child, to loving her and encouraging her and helping her to find her place in the world. Other parents feel the same thing, have been experiencing this blessing for centuries. And at some point in history there were parents who looked down into a small wooden box and felt this feeling towards God.
Christmas is all about babies and the hope they instill in us. It is about our commitment to acting for love and justice and compassion in the world. God does this by asking us to be God’s own parents, by reminding us that hope lies with the helpless and the tiny. Every night I watch my little girl sleep and I dream for her that she may one day walk through a world in which all children may sleep and rise and live in heavenly peace.