By Scott Dickison
There’s a little button on the wall in the birthing center at the big hospital in town, down the street from our church. I’m told that other hospitals in town and probably other places have a similar button, but in this hospital it’s in the main hallway that leads from the birthing rooms to the suites where the new families spend their first few days together. And it’s practice in the hospital for new mothers, after they’ve given birth and are being wheeled down the hall to their rooms, to reach up and push this button, which sends a lullaby over the intercom system across the rest of the hospital, letting everyone know that a new life has just come into the world.
It’s a beautiful little gesture — my wife got to push the button after our son was born just over a year ago — and I can tell you from the many other times I’ve visited church members at the hospital that it’s a sight to see people’s faces change in the hallways or other rooms when the music starts playing. The fevered pace of the hospital seems to calm, ever so slightly. It’s especially touching in the elevator, when all the people who moments before were trying hard not to acknowledge those standing around them suddenly look up to make eye contact and smile knowingly at each other.
I’ve heard that this little melody is especially popular in the cancer treatment floors of the hospital and the ICUs — in those areas where situations are especially dire and outlooks are often bleak. This little melody of hope is most welcome on these floors. Some have even said this lullaby has some real medical benefits, helping to stabilize heart rates and breathing, which seems reasonable, but who knows?
Another minister on our staff told me sometime ago that one of the pediatricians in the hospital has picked up on the impact of this little lullaby, and so he doesn’t even wait for a new mother to press it; he pushes the button himself whenever he walks past it. And I’ll admit that my first reaction when he told me this was, Isn’t that a little dishonest? And in the sense that this lullaby is supposed to let people know a baby has been born in close proximity to them — just down the hall or in the next floor up—perhaps. Perhaps it’s a little misleading.
But then it occurred to me that in the sense that this lullaby reminds people that no matter what the circumstance they’re facing, they live in a world where babies are still being born, where new life is constantly springing forth, where hope and possibility are still very much alive — a world where new eyes are constantly opening and seeing light and love and life for the first time — no. No, this isn’t dishonest or misleading. This is telling the absolute truth, right when it’s needed most.
This is telling the truth, because we live in a world where these things are always and everywhere happening. To tell the other story, to act as if this weren’t happening — well, that would be dishonest, wouldn’t it? Life, light, hope and love are all around — the very presence of God is all around, and it would be misleading to say otherwise. That would be dishonest. So I say go ahead and push the button.
I thought about this button leading up to the first Sunday of Advent this year, the Sunday of hope. And like the hospital pediatrician, we don’t wait for an actual birth to push it; we push it in anticipation for the new life that we know is on the way. We send a hopeful lullaby out into a world that from time to time needs to be reminded that not only is new life possible, but in fact it’s already here, growing among us.
Now, we’re talking about small things here. In the great hospital whirlwind a little button that plays a lullaby is not a big thing at all. And with everything we see on the news and know in our own hearts, simply raising a banner of hope one Sunday a year doesn’t seem to be doing anyone much good.
No, there’s no arguing these are small things: the hospital lullaby and the Advent message of hope. But we are a people of small things. And this is the season of small things. Small hopes, small peace, small joys, small love. It’s a season that ends with us gathering by candlelight and telling each other again how small things make all the difference.
And just like the hospital’s care for patients doesn’t end with the playing of a lullaby, the church’s mission doesn’t stop with one Sunday and the raising of a banner. But at least as far as the church year goes, this Sunday (the first in the Christian year), and the hope we celebrate on it, is where our mission begins.
So go ahead and push the button. That baby won’t be born for another four weeks or so, but go ahead and give it a push. Let everyone know that new life is on the way. It would be misleading not to.