My niece Emma was born after I escaped the snowy northeast for the palm tree and strip mall-studded warmth of SouthFlorida. But, through the miracle of the internet, I’ve been able to see her little face and hear her sweet voice just about every week as she’s grown.
I especially love FaceTiming with Emma onChristmas morning. Every year, as the days grow closer, she seems about readyto keel over from anticipation. The snow, the lights, the parties, the tree,and all those presents! From the first moment she learned to spell E‑M-M-A, newpresents appearing under the tree became a source of unalloyed joy.
By that wonderful live computer video, I get to“play” with Emma in my mother’s living room. She shows me all her
Baby Jesus, in his little straw-filled cradle,has been on the little Fisher Price yellow school bus. He has slid down the HotWheels race car track. (He doesn’t do too well on the turns.) Baby Jesus hasbeen dunked in a glass of milk (“He’s swimming!” she said excitedly before herGrammie rescued him from the drink).
Over the years, Emma has asked me lots of questions about Baby Jesus:
“Baby Jesus was in his Mommy Mary’s tummy?”
Yes, that’s right. (Well, sort of, I didn’tthink it was the right time to correct the biology of that question. She wasthree.)
“When was Baby Jesus’ birthday?”
We’re not really sure, but we celebrate hisbirthday on Christmas, December 25th.
“Did Baby Jesus cry a lot?”
We don’t know, but I would guess that he did.
(Her then newborn brother was apparently goingthrough a screaming phase.)
“Did Baby Jesus’ Daddy have to go towork every day?”
Yep! He was a carpenter, which meant he worked with wood to make it into chairs and tables and beds and maybe even built houses. (I didn’t get into the possibility that he might actually have workedwith stone instead of wood. Again: she was three.)
Not too long ago, though, she had me stumped. She said, with the sweetness that only a small, adorable, long-eyelashed
“Aunt Hedy, this is baby Jesus.
He’s a little baby.
But he’s a grown-up, too, right?
He’s a baby and a grown-up?”
Uh. Okay. … You see, it all happened a longtime ago. So, yes. He’s both. And he’s neither.
And, there, in anutshell, is the weirdness of the Christian calendar.
Poor Jesus. As we approach the end of every year, we wait in anticipation for him to be born. Mary and Joseph yet again make the trek to Bethlehem, even though we know what awaits them there:
Then — hurrah! — the angelic choir breaks open the skies to the abject terror of the shepherds minding their own business below. Just a few days later, we celebrate Epiphany with those mysterious
The next major church-going holiday isn’t untilmonths later: Easter. For the ramp-up to that celebration, we remember howJesus was betrayed, beaten, mocked, tortured, hung until he died on a cross,and his body respectfully stowed away in a temporary tomb.
Then, in the darkness of Easter morning, to thesurprise of his despairing and grieving followers, Jesus is joyfully restoredto the world, resurrected. He continues to teach and guide, then is taken up toheaven while his friends watch with gapingly dropped jaws.
A few more months go by, the weather turnscooler, and that resurrected Jesus is back in Mary’s womb, again awaiting birthin that stable in Bethlehem.
Birth … Death … Darkness… Resurrection … Darkness … Birth … and on.
“Aunt Hedy, this is baby Jesus. He’s a littlebaby. But he’s a grown-up, too, right? He’s a baby and a grown-up?”
The lectionary’s calendar of scripture readings for today include these opening verses of Psalm 126:
When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
“What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest.
Like our Christian calendar, the psalm begins with joy — worshippers returning to the holy city — then quickly turns to
Joy … Tears … Joy … Weeping … Joy … Tears… and on.
That’s kind of the way it works in life, isn’t it? Not just in the Christian calendar,or in the Psalms, but in our real, walking around, everyday life. In our country, in our world, in our families, in our spirits, we cycle through. We go through times of darkness, times of uncertainty and fear and doubt. We go through times of light, times of clarity and certainty and hope. And back and forth. And forth and back. And back and forth again.
Our cycle of remembrance in the Christian year helps us to acknowledge both the darkness that still swirls around us, but also to recognize that we live in a post-Christmas, post-Easter reality, where God is constantly making things new.
Joy from the tears.
Singing from the weeping.
Light from the darkness.
We remember that on that first Christmas morning, God became one of us, coming right down into our darkness, into our confused, messed-up world. In spite of the consequences of that decision, in spite of all that would happen to Jesus as he lived his too-short decades as a human being. In spite of all that — the birth, the joys, the tears, the weeping, the death — in spite of all that, on Christmas morning, God came down to earth.
This is baby Jesus.
He’s a little baby.
But he’s a grown-up, too.
He’s a baby and a grown-up.
Yes, he is.
Thanks be to God.