One of the things I had forgotten about having babies is how incredibly transformative they can be. People totally change around babies. They ooh and ahh around babies. Their faces light up and they seem uncontrollably drawn toward infants. Their whole demeanor shifts at the sight of a baby. I have even brought my infant to meetings before, and I am amazed about how the whole mood of the room changes. Work still gets done, but not without laughter, smiles, and joy. Even a crying child makes people sympathetic and tender.
For a long time, I wondered what it was about babies that could turn even the sternest person to mush. Then I realized what it was: hope. Because babies have little control or ability to assert their own (often contradictory) will, there is hope for all that the baby can be. Their innocence and simplicity are a refreshing break from the complicated nature of life. They truly are a gift to families, communities, and even strangers who sometimes have truly lost what it means to be a people of hope.
When our little one played baby Jesus in the Epiphany Pageant this year, I was not surprised at all then that the adult playing Mary teared up during the pageant. I have not spoken to her about what was going on that made her teary, but watching the emotion bubble up in her was something that I knew only an infant could do. Her emotional response made me see and hear the entire pageant differently – seeing the children in a different way, hearing the words of scripture in a different way, and singing the familiar Christmas songs in a different way.
In that moment of emotion, something else also became clear to me in a totally different way. The human reality of Jesus as a baby became much more tangible in that moment. It suddenly made sense to me how angels, shepherd, and wise men could reverence a child. It made sense to me how Mary and Joseph were completely perplexed, but also completely hopeful about this new thing that was happening through their child. It made sense to me the tremendous gift and miracle of God taking on flesh for us truly was.
Those moments of utter clarity are a bit rare in my life. I know the biblical stories and our liturgies so well that sometimes they become rote. I believe them all; I just do not always feel them. That morning, I felt it. I felt the wonder. I felt the overwhelming gratitude. I felt the hope. My guess is that opportunities for those feelings are more present than we ever recognize. Our challenge is honing the skill of perceiving when God is breaking into our routines and giving us hope.