When you become a parent, those with experience in the field suddenly take it upon themselves to give you advice. From family to close friends to acquaintances to random people on the street, the relationship doesn’t seem to matter. Your parenting apparently becomes everyone’s business.
“Sleep begets sleep!”
“Just let them cry it out.”
“Here! Let me show you how to hold the baby so that your arm doesn’t get so tired.”
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
“What your child needs is a little discipline.”
“I would never let my child consume red food dye.”
“Is that an organic snack?”
“Don’t spend a fortune on baby wipes. Just hold their little butt under the kitchen faucet and let it air dry.”
Some of these admonitions are encouraging enough. Others are intrusive. Some simply bizarre. At least half are obsolete according to current research.
But there’s one particular piece of advice, earnestly meant, which has haunted me from day one.
“Enjoy it while they’re little. They’ll be grown before you know it.”
Even when my first child was still growing inside his mother, I had a sinking feeling deep inside my gut. This piece of advice is true. Your children are born, and immediately begin the process of leaving you.
My son is no longer a baby. He’s a little boy, still dependent on his parents, but growing less so each day. My heart leaps for joy with his growing physique, expanding vocabulary, and exploding personality. It also weeps for his growing independence,
“They’ll be grown before you know it!” is a blossoming reality in his life. It wasn’t long ago that he fit easily on the short length from my knees to my lap, all cute and awkward and wide eyed. Now he’s figured out he can stand on small objects and reach the light switches throughout the house. I know there’ll be more to come, and at increasingly nauseating speed.
Never has any reality struck me as quite so exciting and painful at the same time. I love who he is becoming, but I wish so badly that I could go back and cradle him in my arms once more. Or stand him up, rest him against my legs, and croon a few more strains while his eyes lit up and faint smiles graced the corners of his mouth.
This year, my wife and I were graced with another beautiful light in our lives, a precious little girl. She’s a lot like her big brother, and I’m trying to savor the little baby moments even more this time around.
Just over a week ago, I sat with the choir on Christmas Eve and sang What Child Is This. Still having my own lap child at home, the words of the first stanza took root in my soul:
What child is this who laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping.
I’ve sat many nights over the past months humming, singing, soothing this sweet little life wrapped up tight and cradled in my arms. To think that the Creator of the world, the promised King, the Redeemer of creation once laid in his mother’s arms much the same way is amazing, awesome, inconceivable. The next words flowed freely:
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.
I wasn’t ready for what came next. Some hymnal committees have inexplicably, unforgivably these words, but we sang them:
Nails, spear, shall pierce him through;
The cross be borne for me, for you.
I felt physically ill. Violence against the innocent is always a tragedy, but he’s only a baby. The image of this soft, delicate flesh one day being torn and gashed is simply too much to take in. I wanted to hold my own babies close. It’s this parent’s worst nightmare, a nightmare once suffered not only by Mary, but the great God of heaven. And it’s coming. The drama of our church year will bring this about.
This year especially, I don’t want to run in that direction.
We’ve got only a few days more to rest peacefully in the miracle of the Christ child. It’s still Christmas, after all. We’re not even to Epiphany yet. Pretty soon we will be following him on his earthly ministry, the culmination of which will simultaneously be most breathtakingly beautiful and most horrendously violent. We have an advantage here. We know what’s coming. We can feebly begin to prepare ourselves, to grapple with Christ’s incarnational destiny, all the while knowing the mystery of it all, the love in this Infant’s heart is too deep, too broad, too high for us all.
Of course, if you throw out a “Merry Christmas” around most churchgoing folks these days, you’ll get some quizzical looks in return. Far too often the church forgets the privilege of its own calendar, instead rushing ahead to the next thing, the next stupid topical sermon series, the next slate of softball games, the next fiscal year. Suggest they do otherwise, and you’re liable to be hit with the pat response: “Don’t be so bound by the empty rituals of men.”
But it’s not a constraint, it’s not an obligation, it’s a discipline, a privilege at that. Research has proven what the church knew for millennia: humans thrive on ritual.
So while the rest of the world has begun its recovery from the commercially-hijacked winter holiday, plunging back into its de facto ordinary time of noise and clutter and business, I plead with you.
Rest in the miracle of love he is.
Delight in the humble coos of the Word made flesh.
Enthrone this little one in your own hearts.
And when that pit of dread momentarily sinks into your gut, lament that this beautiful gift of love must walk a path from Bethlehem’s cradle to Golgotha’s cross for us and for our salvation.
The moments are fleeting. They will be gone before you know it.
Raise, raise the song on high:
“Joy, joy, for Christ is born!”
Let baby Jesus be little, if only for a while longer.
|Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Adoration of the Shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51557 [retrieved January 2, 2018]. Original source: Collection of Anne Richardson Womack.|