December 24, 2021

Holding Jesus

Preacher:

Every once in a while, you hear on the radio or see on the television some story of a baby being abandoned. I remember several years ago. A newborn baby was left in a garbage can and some passerby found the baby, called 911 and the baby was taken to hospital.
To me that is a very sad story. At first, I think what kind of person could do that? what kind of mother could abandon her baby…?
But when I really think I about it, I think that a mother who would abandon a baby like that, is not doing it because she doesn’t care, but because she probably is living with incredible fear, anxiety, and emotional pain…so much so that she cannot even think straight.

To think there are young mothers, who are so afraid, or so abused, or so battered, or so lonely, or so isolated that they have nowhere to turn for help… not even parents.
Doesn’t it make you feel sick in your stomach?
I think my children understand they would be never turned away from love and help by Fiona and me, no matter what.

So, it makes me wonder about the pain, the turmoil, the rejection, or whatever this young mother must have gone through. Hiding a pregnancy... Going through it alone... Fear of discovery… Fear of rejection...

And though it is not the same with Mary, I am sure there are some similarities. Mary ends up pregnant before marriage and there is shame and fear attached with that.
I wonder how long she waited to tell her parents. Did worry about what they might say? How anxious was she? Did God give her the strength? Did she feel all alone?
It isn’t there, you know in the scriptures exactly what she felt and how she got through it, but we all know this was a tough time.
The scriptures indicate she could be stoned. She could be sent away in disgrace. She could be divorced even before she is married.
I am sure there was much fear in her when she told her parents and when she told her fiancée.

So, while the conception of the baby is a miracle,
There are other miracles that happen in this story right from the start.
It is a miracle that Mary accepts this baby from God.
It is a miracle that Joseph accepts Mary still, and accepts that this baby is from God.

So, they get through this first huge hurdle…this unplanned, unexpected and inexplicable pregnancy.
And Joseph and Mary stick together.
But now just to top it all off, they are forced to go to Bethlehem for the census, while Mary is well into her pregnancy.

And the scripture reads
“…while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn.”

You know there are really only two lines devoted to the actual birth.

She laid Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the inn. She gave birth in a barn?
How alone do you think she was?

Now I have thought about this?
I wondered if Joseph was actually present.
My best guess is that he wasn’t.
I wonder if Jewish culture at that time would allow a male to be present at a birthing. I am sure Mary would be considered unclean.
I also think that any Jewish male of the time would not have the slightest clue about what to do in delivering a child.
I am sure that babies would be delivered by midwives, if there was someone else there.

Now as part of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius, one of the meditations I had to do was about the birth of Jesus.
The exercise is to use one’s imagination and be there during the birth.
It is to hear the sounds and smell the smells and see the sights.
One can enter the scene sort of as a bystander
Or one can imagine themselves as one of the characters who might actually be there.
One could imagine they were Mary or Joseph or a shepherd or one of the magi, or one of the animals or even as another character or an imaginary character.

And when I did that meditation, I imagined myself to be the midwife.

And lest you think that’s a bridge too far, too great a leap for me to be a midwife, I’ll have you know I was at the birth of my four children, and I went to prenatal classes, and I did the panting exercises and I cut Alison’s umbilical cord.

So, while far from ready to hang out my shingle as a midwife, I do know a little bit about births, and probably more than what Joseph knew.

I imagined myself to be a midwife, because that is who I believed held Jesus first.

In Jesus’ day, one didn’t go to a nice hospital with nurses and doctors.
In Jesus day it was midwives.

I believe it was a woman who held Jesus first, an unnamed midwife. I do not know what she knew. I don’t know whether she would have realized that this birth was any more or less significant than any other.
In fact, as I imagined this scenario, the midwife heard about this birth and came to help because she took pity on the teenager Mary, and offered her help.

And the first feeling I felt was compassion. The midwife’s heart was moved to help.

And what the midwife did was offer consolation and comfort.
“There, there dearie, everything is fine. Now don’t you worry none.”

And then Jesus is born. And I could not help myself in my imagination and in my re-enactment; I knew this was the Saviour of the world

And as the midwife, I imagined myself to be the first person to hold Jesus.
I cradled God in my arms.

It was a wonderful feeling to hold God. …to hold love... ... to hold grace…

You see, most of the time it is the other way round.
We are the ones who come to God needing the hug.
We are the ones who need to be held.
God is big and strong and powerful and we come to God asking for protection, guidance and help. We are the helpless asking for help.
We are the lost, looking for guidance.
We are the sinners looking for forgiveness,
We are the wounded looking for healing.
We are the victims looking for justice.
God help me, hold me, forgive me, save me.
And God reaches out his arms to hold us and comfort us.

But today the Christ is born and we hold him.
Today God is helpless, vulnerable, weak and dependent.
Today God needs our love to survive and grow.

Every time you hold a newborn baby, I think it feels like holding God. Like holding Jesus. To hold God’s image in your hands cradling that baby, is just like holding Jesus.
This tiny helpless baby. Just like Jesus.

Normally that is not an image of God we think of…the vulnerable God, the helpless God.
We like the all-powerful God.

But it is a reminder to the church that part of our calling is to hold God and actually do things to help God.
You know someone might want to hurt this baby. Someone might want to arrest this baby. Someone might want to torture this God we hold. Someone might want to kill this helpless baby.
And we can do something to help.
Every time we do something to feed the hungry, we feed this little baby.
Every time we work against injustice and work for peace, we protect this baby.
Every time we offer cold water to someone who is thirsty, we nurse this baby.
Every time we shelter the homeless, we wrap this baby in warmth.
Every time we comfort the sick, the lonely, the dying or the bereaved, we soothe the crying baby Jesus.
We can do something to help the baby.

We can hold love and grace in our arms, and then give him to others to hold.
That is the ultimate job of the church, isn’t it?

To be midwives… to help Christ be born…
To hold Christ in our arms and then pass Christ on to others.

So tonight, we holding Jesus, loving Jesus, caring for Jesus, nursing Jesus.
Tonight, we are holding on to love and grace.

And tomorrow we will pass that love and grace on to everyone we meet.
Tomorrow we will pass Christ on to others.

For to all who received Christ, Christ gave them the power to be born as children of God.
And I believe that Christ gave them the power to be midwives so they could help him be born in others.
Amen.