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X-mas Day Devo Thought

So the father-in-law has been given the privilege to bring the Christmas message this Sunday…and like a good guv’ment employee and middle manager, he has contracted that out to his son and son-in-law. We are to hold our children, because they have had their first two grandkids born this year, and speak for 5-8 minutes drawing spiritual aplications and what not from our experience, or something to that effect. Following G’s lead from last year, here is a version of what I will bring.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says there’s nothing new under the sun… And, since the beginning of time people have been having babies… Adam and Eve begat, Abraham and Sarah begat, begat, begat, begat, O and AEs, E and GB, S and F begat…

Bob Dylan, on the other hand, sang that the times they are a’changin’… And having a baby today is certainly nothing like it was 2,000 years ago. When Joseph heard of Mary’s condition he decided to put her away quietly… Now, Tom Cruise jumps on Oprah’s couch and the news that Katie Holmes is expecting is front-page tabloid news. When Abram and Sarai and Elizabeth and Zacharias were unable to conceive a divine miracle was their only hope… and, neither initially believed. When Hannah was in the same situation, she prayed so fervantly that Eli thought she was drunk. Nowadays, we have technology on our side to circumvent the laws of life and trump its little glitches… if we don’t want kids, there are things we do; if we can’t have kids and want them, there are things we do.

It seems that in the arena of family, we have become more and more self-sufficient, more and more insular, even. In traditional cultures, births are a community event where the women gather to aid the mother, not just in labor but also in the strange time of post-partum adjustment. In modern American culture, we have books, sterile rooms, and doctors to help us through this awe-inspiring, fear-instilling, blissfully traumatic experience.

Even with all these changes the proverb still holds true—the more things change, the more they stay the same… Despite living in a culture that celebrates—at least with prurient intrest—the Holmes/Cruise liason, and even though science has permited us to control fertility, or at least provided us with the illusion that we do, babies are still born into families where strife—like that between Hagar and Sarah—exists, where intrigue and politics—like that of David, Bathsheba and Uriah—abounds, just as they are born into quiet familes like that of Joseph and Mary who raised their children in the fear of the Lord.

People have always been having babies and naming them. Though we didn’t intend to have kids for quiet sometime, one of the first things T and I decided upon in our marriage was the name of our future progeny. Eight years later our first baby arrived, and her name is E. Names claim certain properties and characteristics for those who possess them… They tell us about the people who carry them… Adam and Eve… earth and life… man and woman… Isaac, he who laughs… Jacob, he who supplants… Israel, he who wrestles with the Lord… Unbeknownst to us when we chose her name, E would prove to be one of the most popular boy names of the last decade and half… neither did we know that we were repeating ourselves… both the first and middle name mean, respectively, well-born warrior and the place where the strong warrior resides. And if present indications foreshadow future actuality, the names indeed fit… she’s gonna be a head-strong warrior. Our prayer is that she will fight for justice and mercy—that she will take up the cause of God.

But, we didn’t choose the names for the meaning found in baby name books. Instead, Evan claims her as a grandchild of S and F, while Lor is my mother’s middle-name. We thought there no better way to honor our families than to name our first born after them. After all, despite the many changes between now and the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth and Zacharias (Luke tells us that everyone questioned the name of John, since no one in the family had ever carried that name), things haven’t changed all that much. Babies still come from parents, have a history even before they are born, and, in the best of cases, are born into close-knit, loving families.

And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace… And his name shall be called Immanuel, God with us. These names given to the Christ not only ascribe the properties of God to Jesus… they remind us that God is with us… that God desires community, that we have come into a family. In fact, throughout the Gospels Jesus constantly redefines family as the community of believers. “Who is my brother, my mother, my sister?” Asks Jesus. “Those who are about my Father’s business.”

Just as we chose E’s name long before her arrival, we also began preparing a home and a family for her long before she was born. I spent years working towards a degree and T began her career. The last year of graduate school was a ride down a mountain with no brakes. January 2004 I found job; we bought a
house in March; T got pregnant in June; I finished and defended a dissertation that summer—the cogs for both job and baby began turning on the good faith that I would finish and defend in time; fall 2004 I began teaching at the university level; and, in February 2005 E was born. But that glosses over the painting of the house and the nursery and all
the things that we needed to do to get ready for her arrival. To be honest I’m a little fuzzy on those details… and that’s because I barely did any of them. I was too busy finishing up the dissertation and starting my life as a p. Instead, as you well know, S and F have made countless trips down the mountain to work on the house. It’s the reverse of the groom who needed to go to prepare a place for the bride in his father’s house… here the Father-in-Love comes and fixes up the shanty bought by the bum his little angel married—on her good credit, by the way, since I was still nothing but a graduate student.

But the point is, E came and we prepared a place for her… and, in order to prepare this place, we had to rely on family. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ruth and Naomi depended on Boaz for sustenance; Mary ran to Elizabeth’s to share the news of her pregnancy. Children happen in community and need community to thrive. Parents, as well, need community to survive, to receive those nuggets of wisdom passed down from the ages, to keep their sanity about them, to know how to handle this little helpless bundle that all too soon becomes a crawling terror.

There’s a curious tension about family in scripture, to which I’ve already alluded. On the one hand, God intervenes to give Abraham and Sarah, Elizabeth and Zacharias, Hannah and Elkanah a child… even Manoah and his wife miraculously concieved and she gave birth to Samson. The Lord even intervenes to provide Joseph and Mary a place for the birth of their son… albeit little more than a stable. In each case, God prepares the way… whether it be by turning barenness into
fertility or a manger into a crib. At the same time, though, God requires the parents to dedicate their children to the Lord’s service in radical ways. Jesus himself redefines family to mean those who are about God’s business—even to the point of hating one’s father and mother.

The Christmas story is one that recounts how God, from the beginning, began preparing a place for the Christ to come into the world. Also, in the faithfulness of Joseph to Mary and in the friendship between the two expectant mothers (Elizabeth and Mary), it is a story that insists on the importance of community and family ties. And, last but not least, it’s a story that insists on our continued participation in the creation of this community. In fact, today, on this most family oriented of holidays, we are here because we have heard and understood that family is more than nuclear, that family is those who have heard the call to be about God’s business, to be about preparing a place for God’s love to make itself manifest in our world. Today… here… now.

 

Comments

this will no doubt change as i polish it up

The best we’ve had so far.

that’s great. i love it. i hope evie doesn’t punch you in the face as you deliver it.

good luck with this! sorry i haven’t been writing much lately—mb’s computer has perished, so i have been more or less offline for the last couple of weeks.

changes have been made

final version…t got a hold of it… and did a wonderful job helping reorganize things

I do like the new version even more. It’s brief but hints at bigger things wisely. The alterna-family call by God is worth developing in the future.

i wonder if the current jewish practice of not naming a child after a living person was true 2000 years ago and if the writer of luke imputed greek practices to the story john’s birth….the family memebers all wanted to cal him zacharias

It would fit the Lukan profile; it also would fit the book, which has Greeks or Greekish people embracing/acknowledging the Lord/Jewish cultural knowledge all over (witness the Centurion at Crucifixion).