“Hold the Baby”
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Karen Mosso
Saint John the Evangelist
December 25, 2019
We have come together on this Christmas Day filled with expectation and seeking many things:
– to be with family and friends
– to sing carols and say prayers that are treasured and familiar
– to hear again the ancient story of Jesus’s birth
And we come seeking signs of hope in a world that often disappoints us or disturbs us. Things are not as we want them to be – people just don’t measure up – money is tight. War and conflict never end, and a volatile, contentious election year looms before us.
So, we seek signs of hope in this broken world and we wonder, “What does God have in store for us?”
But sometimes the signs of hope we seek are not the signs of hope God is trying to show us. The God who loves us – and weeps with us – and rejoices in us is the very same God who constantly surprises us! Our God loves paradox and keeps trying to turn us to those people or issues we would prefer to ignore or turn away from.
So it is that God comes into human history as a baby – born to a teenage mother and a father who have had messages – signs of hope – from angels.
I have had the blessing of being present with three friends during the birth of their babies. Those were times of hard work – “labor” as it is rightly called – for the mothers and times of joy and wonder for all of us who were present. One of the best parts was getting to hold the baby – so precious and fresh in this strange new world outside the womb.
Do you remember the first time you got to hold a baby?
I was 10 when my cousin Vicki was born, and I remember there were a lot of “rules.”
- sit on the couch – with lots of pillows around
- “support the head” – don’t drop her!
- hold the bottle just so
- give her back to mom when she cried or was wet
Almost everyone likes to hold babies!
But I once knew a couple who wouldn’t allow anyone to hold their baby.
I was in graduate school at Mankato State and part of a close-knit campus ministry community. We had pot-lucks, innovative, house-church worship, and we were thrilled when baby Peter was born. His parents remained active in the community, and we asked, “May we hold the baby?”
The answer was always “No,” so I asked why not? The mom said that Peter was not able to choose who would hold him. I guess the parents assumed Peter would have chosen them to hold him. I felt sorry for that couple and for Peter.
Peter missed receiving love from a lot of different people. He missed experiencing new sights, touches, sounds and smells – and he missed learning to trust in others.
Picture now that cold, drafty stable in Bethlehem with the smell of livestock and manure, hear the sounds of animals shifting position, and hay crunching under foot. Perhaps the cow was pushed aside so the couple could borrow the feed trough to make a bed for their new born baby.
She’s a very young mother – sore and weary from the labor of birthing her child and missing the company of the women who would have been with her at home. There was no one to bring over a hotdish or a finely knit warm blanket. And her husband feels overwhelmed by the whole thing – bride, birth, baby, and angel messengers.
But soon the visitors begin to arrive – the shepherds are first. Still fearful, rough and smelly themselves, they come to see the child whose birth was announced by angels.
As they look on in wonder and awe at Jesus, I can hear Mary or Joseph say, “Would you like to hold the baby?” And rough hands reach out and tenderly draw him in.
For God’s son, like every infant, needs to be cuddled, rocked, cooed to, held close and loved.
We have come here on this Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’s birth and to be reassured that God does enter into our lives – not just this one day, but every day and always.
God breaks into human history – holds out the child that will carry all our sins and failings and says, “Would you like to hold the baby?”
And we say, “OH YES – OF COURSE!”
But wait – there seems to be a problem – for our arms are already full! And we cannot hold the baby – the son of God – until we put down some of our baggage.
What are we holding???
1. FEAR is probably right up there at the top despite all the angels assuring us – “Do not be afraid.”
There is: fear of change
fear of not changing
fear of the future
fears for our health
fear of letting go
fear that people would not – could not – love us if they really knew us
fear of speaking openly to name our fear, grief, or failing
2. Next, our arms are full of things that cannot fill the emptiness of our hearts and souls. Our calendars are so full we tell ourselves we just don’t have time for God.
Our bellies are so full that we give ourselves health problems while millions of people go hungry.
Our homes are full of stuff we don’t need and rarely use. It is a hard lesson to learn that things cannot bring us happiness.
3. Our arms are often full of feelings we hold onto – old hurts, resentments, some word or deed that still holds us captive when forgiveness would give us freedom.
And so, we cling to ourselves and wonder why we aren’t getting the “good stuff” that God promises.
Would you like to hold the baby?
If our arms and hearts are already full, there will be no way we can hold this baby, let alone feel his love and grace giving us new birth.
On this Holy Day, God – the Creator of the Universe and giver of all gifts – God, the loving parent of us all – This God invites us to put down our burdens and fears and reach out and embrace hope, peace, abundance, and love.
Open your arms – Hold the baby – HOLD THE BABY!