Birth

   Mystic Nativity, (1500) by Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery, London, England.

Mystic Nativity, (1500) by Sandro Botticelli, in the National Gallery, London, England.

If you are expecting or if someone close to you is expecting at this time of year—especially if it’s late in the pregnancy and people can easily see and are often compelled to touch your belly—then you have a special window into the Christmas season. Too often we lose sight of what is central to the season; we are seduced or tempted or deceived into the “Pop” ideas of Christmas: gifts and romance and Santa Claus. But if you are connected to a pregnancy—a great expectation—then you’re easily reminded that Christmas is about fulfillment, promise, and hope. 

We were expecting at Christmastime many years ago…my wife was in her eighth month, so her belly was big and seemed to invite people’s not-always-welcome attention. “Is it a boy or a girl?”…we had chosen not to find out; “When are you due?” …in about a month, but our first-born came late, so…; “Can I feel the baby kick?” …well OK, but if you’re patient, you can see the baby move! Our excited sense of “expectation” was overwhelming: boy or girl; healthy or no; smart or talented or both; a writer, a musician, a doctor…who knew. But the pregnancy was clearly about fulfillment and promise and hope. We sensed the season differently…better…because we were literally awaiting the birth.

   Adoration of the Kings, (about 1470) by Botticelli and Lippi, in the National Gallery, London, England.

Adoration of the Kings, (about 1470) by Botticelli and Lippi, in the National Gallery, London, England.

I like to remind myself—and I am herein reminding you—that Christmas is all that…the birth of fulfillment, promise, and hope. The promise of Christmas began with the prophets, long before the Biblical pregnancy, long before the miraculous birth. In Isaiah 7:14, written twenty-seven centuries ago, the prophecy was: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” John in his Gospel tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son.” As Matthew tells in his Gospel, the birth fulfills prophecy after prophecy and the Star of Bethlehem leads three eastern nobles, the Magi, to the place where they recognize the fulfillment, where they recognize God among us…an Epiphany. Luke in his Gospel tells how the birth is announced by angels to shepherds, who “…spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed.” Even the new mother herself, subjected to giving birth in a stable and laying her child in a manger, Luke describes as, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

In that birth is a promise of unequaled size: God loves us. Symbolically, in December when the nights in the northern hemisphere are their longest (in the Philadelphia area, night will last about 14 hours 40 minutes)…the lights of Christmas banish the darkness. If we’re cold or frightened or lonely or lost or feeling helpless, Christmas is a time of fulfillment and promise and hope…feel and share that wonder. Dare to go bigger than “Pop” culture would have you go…drive around the neighborhoods and see the lights; go into the stores and see the excited expectation; listen anywhere and everywhere to the songs of joy and wonder; raise a glass with family or friend and sense the hope: “God so loved the world…”

Even if you aren’t expecting or if someone close to you isn’t expecting at this time of year, I hope a Christmas hope for you: that you can find all around you and in your own heart the fulfillment, promise, and hope of a miraculous birth.