It’s always been a portent moment for me when the nurse places one of my newborn children on my chest. It’s been a moment of meeting—but not for the first time. Any woman who’s been pregnant will know that you know what the particular child is like before they’re born. After nine months, you know them well. Julia pushed back against my poking her, almost as if she wanted to play. Adam rolled over, in one huge roll, about every three hours, like a tidal wave in my belly. The moment when that little body was placed on my chest, and I felt the weight on my breastbone, my words were always something to the effect of “Well, hi. There you are. Welcome.” Finally, a face to put with the person I had come to know under my ribs. A helpless, wrinkled, red face, and squirly, squirrely body, just beginning, just the promise of a life.
Mother’s pride aside, objectively speaking, there’s not much to recommend a newborn baby, especially if it’s not yours and it hasn’t been born by C-section. The head’s a little crushed, maybe even pointed. The fingers and toes, while perfect, can look alien. The legs are so skinny and slightly bowed from being curled up around the head. The belly’s distended. The eyes are swollen shut. And the hair can be outrageous. Then, for the first month, the baby doesn’t really do anything except cry, eat, sleep, need to be changed. Repeat every two hours; three if you’re lucky.
You don’t know when they place those seven-pounds in your arms what that little body will turn into. I didn’t have any idea that Christian, who once thought he was a dog for almost a year, when presented with the choice, would choose not to participate in team practice on the Sabbath. I had no way of knowing that Seth’s skinny, and I mean, baby bird skinny little body would hold a heart that will play on his hands and knees, even now at 14, quite happily, with a three-year old for hours. Could we have foreseen that Adam would notice? He notices need, hurt, unkindness, loneliness, and is troubled by it and wants to solve it. When they place that little body in your arms, you can’t possibly see the grandeur of the spirit that you and your husband created a body for. At least, I didn’t see it. When they were born, I couldn’t see the fullness of any of these four. I couldn’t see their glory, their power, their strength, their brilliance and beauty. I couldn’t see what being their mother would make of me. They were just babies.
Yesterday morning, I was driving down the diagonal after enjoying a very peaceful seven in the morning Christmas shopping expedition to University Mall. As I rounded the corner and came down into Provo, I was thinking about what to say this morning. The thought came to me, “How fitting that He, Christ the King, comes to us as a baby.” A wrinkled, turkey-legged, alien-fingered baby—if he was like just about every other baby ever born, with not much to recommend him, and more work than apparent reward in the beginning. Was it possible to know that in this baby, “the hopes and fears of all the years were met in him tonight?”
Some of those who saw the baby Jesus knew him for what he was—the glory of the people Israel. In Luke Chapter 2, Simeon, a man “just and devout” had confirmed to him through the Spirit that he would not see death before he “had seen the Lord’s Christ.” About 5 weeks after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord. Simeon took the baby in his arms and blessed God, saying: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace . . . for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. Simeon was not the only person to know the baby. Anna, a prophetess, who spent her days in the temple fasting and praying, saw the five-week old baby, and “in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord.” But most of us don’t have those eyes to see. We see only a baby, or the promise of the good news.
We don’t know, until we have lived with Christ and his gospel of peace, of repentance and forgiveness, of good will and compassion, the full force of his power and glory. We cannot possibly know the blessings of repentance, the joy of human love, the power of obedience and priesthood. We cannot see what the Father, through Christ, can make of us, if we will. I believe it will not be revealed, unless we are willing to let the Christ child enter our hearts; not Christ the King, but Christ the baby. There’s something about a baby, its important little weight, its trusting grip that moves us, that creates a wanting in us to keep it with us always.
I once wrote to Seth, while his body was just a zygote in my womb, that I was so grateful to find out he was there. I explained to him that his father and I had prayed for another child, prayed so hard that every day turned into a prayer. That months, then years had passed without the answer we wanted. That our wanting had turned into waiting. Then, quietly, softly, without trumpets or brass bands, Seth had taken up lodging. I told him I hoped he would stay, that he would grow strong and healthy. I promised him that I would do all I could to keep him with me.
Philip Brooks writes, “how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given, so God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his heaven . . . no ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” I see that moment of the Christ entering our hearts like the moment we see our children for the first time, when our hearts open and they become part of us forever.
The message for me this Christmas is that if we will allow the Christ child to enter our hearts, we begin a journey that will reveal to us Christ the King in his power and majesty. By the Christ child, I mean the simple truths of the gospel. It’s not a fancy, impressive theology. It’s quite simple: love your Father in Heaven; love your neighbor; do good to those around you; repent; repeat. Just like taking care of a baby. If we will allow his simple truths, that because he was born, we shall be saved from our sins; that he is the light of the world, to lodge in our hearts, we can be new creatures in him. It might not be right away. Just like raising children, the process takes time. But the first step is opening our hearts to the Christ child to see that the “peace and goodwill” promised by the angels does, in fact, come first through the baby who lay in the manger, and then through the man who hung on the cross.
Phillips Brooks wrote a fourth verse to O Little Town of Bethlehem that captures for me the prayer of my heart this morning: “O holy child of Bethlehem, Descend to us we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born to us this day; We hear the Christmas angels the great, glad tidings tell; Oh come to us, abide with us; Our Lord Emmanuel.” May we open our hearts and give room for the precious weight of the Savior in our lives, take that holy child and his promises to our breastbone just as we cradled our own children in their first hours, and live with him, grow up with him into peace and goodwill.
Title: from, O Little Town of Bethlehem, by Phillips Brooks