The thing about a baby is, you can't argue with one. Whe babies are born, they exist at least for a little while on their own terms. You may rejoice or despair, you may accept or deny, you may file a lawsuit or write a dissertation or get drunk or knit booties. It makes no difference to the baby. It keeps on being a baby in spite of us.
That's what makes a baby such a profoundly appealing symbol of the Christmas season. In birth, a baby doesn't stand for anything so particularistic as a body of religious tenets or a philosophical system. It simply reminds us of the incredible possibility of abundant life -- something all of us, Christians or not, think about whenever there is a new birth in the family, or among friends.
Every baby's birth is a message of hope -- the more so when it comes, as all human births always do, in a broken world of violence and innocent suffering. The first Christmas baby was born in poverty, in a country under foreign occupation, and under personal threat of execution by the state authorities. Babies are born this day in Somalia and Bosnia, in Crown Heights and Baltimore. Generation upon generation the names and places change, but the human condition does not. Despair tempts us, )) yet when a baby is born our hope is renewed. May this baby's life be different, we pray; may this baby grow to inherit the abundant life promised in our nobler visions.
That such a thing is truly possible is the message of the particular birth that Christians celebrate today. It is also the message of every birth. Peace and goodwill are more than abstractions or holiday sentimentalities. Peace and goodwill exist, if only fleetingly, in the lives of all of us. As the tormented lives of many who are well off or celebrated remind us, peace and goodwill do not depend on political system or material circumstance or social status. They come from the heart; we can create them, if we will. The trick is to recognize these fleeting moments in our own lives, to magnify and reflect them.
We will need a miracle, of course. But we are miracles by the nature of our births. We must become babies again and be
messages of hope to each other. We can begin anew each day, just as new babies are born each day. Each person we meet began as a baby, full of promise, bearing humanity's hopes. These precious former babies need our care, our encouragement, our reverence. In service to others worlds may be reconciled.
Merry Christmas, baby.