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sleeping infant (iStockphoto.com/HannamariaH)

'Let every heart prepare him room'

We are, each of us, still filled with the same promise as a newborn baby.
By Jane Rzepka

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For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come—
Born of the seed of man and woman.

No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show
Where to find the babe that will save humankind.

Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.

—Sophia Lyon Fahs

Once upon a time—2,000 years ago—there was born a squirmy, reddish, wrinkled babe, who probably did not sleep through the night, who no doubt fussed for no reason at all, and who, one assumes, got hungry at all kinds of inconvenient times. All these years later, we still make quite a production of honoring Jesus’s birth.

In fact, many of us go further. Not only do we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the potential of every baby that’s born to us. These tiny creatures are, as Shakespeare observed, “mewling and puking.” They can’t utter a single sentence, distinguish a loving mother from the family poodle, or recognize their fist as their own even as it goes by in front of their faces, but we make a commotion about them nonetheless. We are big on appreciating all the miracles that surround us, and any baby’s entrance into the world is just such a miracle.

We are not alone in our urge to lift up the miracle of birth; in fact, among the cultures of the world, we take the understated approach. According to a sermon by Virginia Knowles, Krishna, of India, was thought to have been born in 1200 before the common era of a virgin in a cave, and a star announced his birth. The Persian Mithra was born on December 25 in about 600 BCE, likewise of a virgin in a cave. Hinduism’s Indra was born in 725 BCE by descending from heaven, another child born to a virgin. The birth of the Buddha in the fifth or sixth century BCE took place in a park, they say, where angels held a net for his cradle and sang in celebration as four kings joined them. And the upcoming birth of Confucius, as another story goes, was announced to his mother by a unicorn bearing a stone tablet, and when he was actually born, two dragons and five immortals celebrated in the sky while heavenly musicians sang.

I have done it myself—gone overboard about infants. I have all but worshipped the babies brought forward for dedication ceremonies in church, and I have never felt so awestruck as I did when holding my own babies for the first time. But today, during the Christmas season, I’m going to promote a little heresy. I’m going to put in a good word for adults, for we, too, are filled with promise.

I figure it this way. Jesus is honored as a wise teacher and religious leader not because he was born, but because he grew up and changed the world. The same goes for the Buddha and Confucius and any number of religious figures. And the same goes for any of us. Part of what we love and celebrate in the babies in our lives is the promise they hold, the hope of things to come, the contributions they could—who knows—make to our society as they grow from babyhood into old age. Each one of us is one of those promising babies, grown up. One-time holy babes, now balding and spreading, now flossing and watching our weight, but nonetheless divine.

It’s true. We get so tied up with the little bundle of wonder in the manger that we miss the more solidly established wonders around us, just as close at hand: the parent who unfailingly tends a handicapped child; the man who still loves sledding or makes animals out of long, skinny balloons; the neighbor who always helps you clean your gutters; or the person who organizes a shelter for battered women, or launches a radical campaign for racial justice; or the people who have all they can do to get to work and back and put dinner on the table and the kids to bed and yet, they do that day after day; or the folks who do their best in spite of their loneliness, smiling a good bit, and keeping on. That’s holy, holy stuff.

Each person reading this was born at a sacred time. And no matter what the circumstances—whether we were greeted with joy or despair, whether we were healthy or weak, whether we were easy babies or utterly exhausting, we, too, were filled with promise. We who are once-newborn-now-grown are filled with promise still. Let every heart prepare it room.

This essay originally appeared in Quest, the newsletter of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, in December 2001. Photograph (above): © iStockphoto.com/HannamariaH.

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