Christmas Day 2011
Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 12:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Unto to us a child is born. A baptism on Christmas morning! How much better could it get?
Every year Christians gather to celebrate the joyous proclamation that the child Jesus was born long ago and became for us the means of our salvation. Every time we gather as a Christian community to baptize a child we proclaim a similar message. A child has been born to us and, through this new life, we are able to sense God’s continued work of salvation in the world. We renew our own baptismal covenant and freshen our commitment to the good news of Christ Jesus.
Think about what it means for a family to welcome a new child. A brand new sense of hope and expectancy arises. I spend a lot of time in hospitals and I swear, if you blindfolded me and walked me around a hospital, I could tell you when we were on the labor and delivery floor. There’s a very different feel in the air. The arrival of newborns changes the atmosphere completely. Everyone senses the potential stretching out ahead of us. No matter what we’re dealing with, the birth of a new child is a wonderful balm. The more we are dealing with, the better that balm is when a new child arrives.
I guess part of that is the innate human desire to perpetuate the species. We know that our time here is limited but a new child being born stretches out the human race another generation. Something inside us is stretched out. We don’t live here forever but something is bringing about new life which in undeniable. We are put in awe of that life force and something deep inside us relaxes and trusts a little more. Life itself is regenerating.
That’s significant enough if you are comfortable financially and live in peace and security. Even when we are pleased with our lives as they are, a new child being born brings excitement. But imagine what a new child must mean to a couple who has gone through strife or who lives on the edge. That child is a new world for them, a new hope. Birth rates have always been higher among the poor and that’s not just because they’re uneducated or undisciplined. It’s because they need that new hope, they cling to that hope in a way that maybe we don’t.
Our Old Testament lesson speaks of a time when the people of Israel were in great need. The neighboring countries have risen in power and are overtaking Israel. The prophets have warned them for some years but the people have wandered off from God’s living word. Now they see the threatening destruction and Isaiah proclaims new hope. A child has been born for the people, he says. A new king has been born and he will grow into the means of our salvation. Isaiah is speaking more immediately about salvation. He is proclaiming the hope that the new king will save them from their enemies. We think he is talking about the king Hezekiah who was born in the early 700s BC. His birth represented a renewal of hope for the future. It was a time of darkness and Isaiah saw a new light coming. In time part of that hope was realized. Hezekiah made some progress and other kings after him built on that. But the hope Isaiah proclaims was never fully realized in the nation’s political history. Years later after Hezekiah the nation collapsed and hope seemingly was lost.
We know about that too. Each new generation being born brings the hope of improvement. Maybe the next one can be freer of racism. Maybe they can cure those diseases or eliminate war. But the next generation has their limitations too. They’ll be better at certain things but they won’t solve all the problems.
So, for all of time, a newborn child has represented the hope for a brighter future and, at the same time, been a reminder that humans alone can only go so far. Seen in that way, it’s kind of surprising that a newborn is not met with cynical despair. Another generation about to have all its hopes dashed. But that’s not the way it is with new life. It helps us see a new life that awaits us.
Unto us a child is born. Luke brings the words of new hope to us in his gospel that we read every Christmas. That hope we all need so much is provided for us in this new child Jesus. Jesus becomes the hope of salvation for all human life. That’s why a baptism is so meaningful on Christmas Day. We’re automatically open to that new hope in a different way. Through this new child and through the renewal of our faith covenant, maybe we’ll see the great hope of salvation in a different light. How much better could it get? God encourages us in our earth pilgrimage with the gift of new life. And God promises salvation to us through the savior born to us this day.