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Thursday 24 December 2020

Everyone Loves a Baby

Isaiah 9.1-7; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-14 

 

By Jeremy Garratt

Parish Priest of Waterlooville and Horndean parishes in Portsmouth Catholic Diocese

Context: Midnight Mass in a mixed urban/rural parish in Southern England with the usual Christmas mix of very regular and very occasional worshippers

Aim: to show people that beneath the ‘cuddly’ image of the birth of the Christ-Child there is a more challenging message about the God who comes to birth on the margins so that the marginal and the powerless may discover that they belong; and so that our hearts might be changed.

What is it about dogs and babies?

You can be walking along the street on your own and most people will pass you by, though some may smile a greeting, but mostly, we leave each other pretty much to ourselves. Something to do with the British stiff upper lip, I suppose.

But walk down the same road past the same people with a dog in tow or pushing a stroller, and everyone is suddenly your friend. There is an instant rapport, as if you’ve known each other all your life. All the barriers tumble away and a bridge of understanding is immediately established as the other person ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at baby or tickles Fido’s ears asking what breed he is (a complete mystery as far as our mutt, Ben, is concerned). A conversation develops, a friendship is forged and a relationship of mutual respect and fellowship blossoms, often to be continued the next morning and so on thereafter.

How clever of God, then, when He really wanted to grab our attention to send a baby! Everyone loves a baby, and soon angels and shepherds and wise men crowd in to bill and coo and wonder what this baby will become. If you believe the traditional school nativity play, even some animals are there to wonder - an ox, an ass, the odd sheep, (even a lobster according to Love Actually!) but no dogs to steal the limelight. Everyone loves a baby - Oh, apart from King Herod, perhaps!

Yes, a king - why not send a king? The prophet Isaiah tells us to expect a king with royal power ruling from the throne of David. Surely if God wanted to come among us, why didn’t he choose to come as a king, wrapped in power and authority, dressed in the finest silks and ermines and bedecked with precious jewels? This would surely better befit his exalted status and great majesty. This would surely make everyone sit up and take notice.

But, no. He came as a baby so that no one would be ashamed to approach Him, no one would feel small in his presence because no one is smaller than a baby. And no one is weaker than a baby so that the powerless would find in him a friend. No one is more helpless than a baby, so that the defenceless would find their champion in him. No baby can speak so that the voiceless and those deprived of justice and their rights would know he was right there with them in their need.

And how strange! Here, a stone’s throw away, was the holy city of Jerusalem, God’s own city, the greatest city on earth, the centre of the world. So why didn’t God have His Son born there to prove the point that this was His Son? No, God chose that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem, the least of the cities of Judah, six miles from Jerusalem, on its very margins because God sent this baby to be the champion of those who live on the margins - the homeless, the street sleepers, the street walkers, the exile, the stranger, the immigrant, the stateless, the poor, the leper, the beggar, the down-trodden and the broken-hearted.

In Jesus, God became a child for us so that we should give our heart to Him, for everyone loves a baby, and so that we, in turn, should become God’s children, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. As Charles Dickens said, ‘it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.’

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