And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth [John 1:14]
I’ve never given birth. I’ve never even been present at a birth. But I hear labor and delivery are painful. And tense. And messy. As a pastor, I always had the easy part: visiting the mom and the baby the day after labor and delivery. And usually, when both are healthy and happy, I would walk into a fairly calm and peaceful scene. The newborn is often in a tiny warm crib, or maybe mom is holding her. Usually the baby is sleeping peacefully and the mom is exhausted and relieved and grateful.
New moms usually give me some report of labor and delivery. Sometimes I get more details than I need to know. But what I have learned is that new birth is both scary and exciting, painful and joyful, birth is messy and sweet at the same time. It is emotional. A miracle. Hard work.
And I’m pretty sure the birth of Jesus was like that, only more so. Mary and Joseph were far from home--a long journey, riding on a donkey in the middle of the night, no room at the inn. Mary gave birth to Jesus under especially messy conditions. No doctor. No midwife even. Certainly no clean sheets or hot water. Luke’s account of the birth doesn’t go into details. But anyone who’s given birth and even those of us who haven’t, can only imagine that it was hard and frightening, and joyful and emotional, and messy and at some point, sweet.
This story of new birth is at the center of Christian faith, because God comes to us as a tiny child, a newborn babe, the embodiment of grace.
On Christmas Eve we hear the story of the birth, of the angels and the shepherds, and the glorias. But on Christmas morning, we get to visit the holy family on the morning after, when the baby is sleeping and the mother is exhausted and the father is emotional and everyone is grateful. But they’re still in that cowshed, that stable, and it’s nothing like a room in a clean, well-staffed, modern-day hospital.
The hymns of Christmas, including the poetic hymn that opens John’s gospel, are about glory and royalty, but still, if we look more closely, the hymns of Christmas are also about the common experience of birth, of new birth. The new song we would sing on Christmas morning is more a lullaby than a national anthem, it is a quiet, thankful song that longs for peace and rest and comfort, it is a song that sings of grace.
This is the Word that is made flesh: Grace. God’s Word is given to us as a gift. A gift to be unwrapped and treasured, a gift to be shared, given away. The light that helps us see in the darkness. By grace, God’s life is reproduced in us, repeated, grace upon grace. This is new birth. This is embodied grace. Living the Christ-life, light in the darkness, sweetness in the midst of messiness. The only possible response to this indescribable Gift is gratitude. Gracias. Grazie. Merci. Mercy.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
©Rebecca Button Prichard
Image Let Mum Rest, shown to Pope Francis on his birthday 17 December 2019.