Welcoming the child

It is as a child that God reveals all that is beautiful and right in the world -- and reveals the world's true longing.

By Molly T. Marshall

I don’t know about you, but if there is a baby in the room, I want to hold it. I want to feel those little fingers curl around mine, and I love the compact weight of a newborn. I had such an opportunity yesterday as one born in October had his first Christmas. Of course, the whole celebration of family gathering took on new joy and promise with him there.

Children signal the true state of reality. Healthy, happy children reveal civil arrangements that provide services to those who have no choice in the matter; starving, abandoned children give evidence that the ecology of economics, politics, and environment is deserting those most vulnerable to the decisions of others. We all live with the fear that despite our best efforts, we cannot protect them all or ensure a future with hope.

The faces of children populate the ads of shrewd marketing campaigns — whether to encourage capitalism or sound the alarm of failing systems.  In this season of Christmastide, we reflect anew on what it means to make room for children, indeed to make room for the Child.

It is as a child that God reveals the world’s true longing. We long for the basic necessities of life, true; however, we long for so much more.  (Sadly, most of the world’s population does not have the luxury of longing for more.) The holy longing in us crystallizes when we hear the insistent cry of a baby; all other responsibilities are set aside for the sake of this dependent life.

Theologians over the ages have marveled that God would come among us in this frail form, sharing fully in our humanity. As Martin Luther put it in his Christmas Sermon, “How could God have shown God’s own goodness in a more sublime manner than by humbling himself to partake of flesh and blood . . .?” Even more remarkable, by being born in a poor, oppressed family, the eternal God entrusts redemption to those who would nurture this child. 

The child is a sign of what matters most to humanity: a sense of inclusion, peaceful relations with others, justice for all, and burgeoning hope for the world to be put to rights. When Isaiah speaks of the young woman who will bear the child Immanuel, he tells forth God’s intention to redeem — as well as to judge — those called to live into God’s future (Isaiah 7:10-16). The source of redemption is unlikely — a child who will know “how to refuse the evil and choose the good” (v. 15b).

The shattered lives of children are now calling our nation to choose the good. In the wake of the carnage of Newtown, Conn., the silenced voices of schoolchildren bear witness to our hell-bent ways with weapons. Will we hear them? Will we let their mute testimony call us to refuse evil?

When I was a graduate student in Cambridge, I had the privilege of regularly attending evensong during Advent at King’s College. The lilting voices of the renowned boys choir invited the congregation to remember that Christ

 . . . was little, weak and helpless

Tears and smiles like us He knew;

And He feels for all our sadness

And He shares in all our gladness.

Not only did God identify as our “childhood’s pattern,” as the hymn Once in Royal David’s City put it, but the sign of the child breaks down the walls of division.

Beyond the choir stall at the far end of this storied chapel hangs the lovely Rubens’ painting, “The Adoration of the Magi.”  There, kneeling before the infant are the “kings.”  Rather than being portrayed as three Persians, they represent the three known parts of the world at that time, Africa, Asia and Europe. The symbolism is striking; it is the child that brings the world’s people together.

As we welcome the child anew, may we also acknowledge him as God’s sign for the world, a sign of hope for all. And may our welcome of him move us to act for all the little ones he loves.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.