I remember changing after our two children were born. Every time I heard about a child being neglected or mistreated, I would become emotional.
It’s fair to say hormones would have accounted for some of that, but not all. Being pregnant, giving birth and caring for our tiny babies brought out a deeper awareness and sensitivity to just how innocent, precious, vulnerable and fragile the life of a small child is.
Many of us have had our own children, or had the chance to hold the newborn baby of a special relative or friend. Others have wished for this but never had the chance, which brings an awareness of the precariousness and uncertainty of the beginning of life that sits deep within us.
In my past life, I worked in women’s health with mothers and their families during pregnancy and childbirth. I couldn’t count the times I’ve seen tears streaming down the face of a new dad or mum, of a new grandmother or grandfather, holding their tiny newborn in their arms.
There is something about holding a newborn baby – or wishing you could – that breaks us open, that melts defences, that disarms us, that opens us up to a new perspective on what really matters in life. And what doesn’t. In the face of a tiny innocent child in need of love and protection, our own disagreements, grudges, harboured hurts and disappointments can seem petty.
And it’s not just at birth that this happens. It can happen at the other end of life too, as families come together and sit with their dying relative, keeping vigil. As the emotions flow, long-held defences and barriers can be dropped, old hurts let go, and forgiveness exchanged. Families reconcile with each other as the tears of grief flow. Or perhaps this is what we hope for.
At both ends of life, where we are most aware of our own human frailty, where we know how vulnerable we are, we often find we let go of our defences and are able to “lay down our arms”. We drop the barriers that keep us apart.
I wonder if that’s part of what the gospel writers want us to know when they tell us stories of God coming to us in the birth of a tiny child? Coming to us in a newborn, a tiny, fragile baby, God becomes vulnerable, breaking down our barriers, disarming us, touching us in our own human frailty, opening us up to the possibility of healing and reconciliation. This is how God works in our lives.
In our openness to the reality of our own vulnerability, we can sometimes find the way to reconciliation and healing with family, friends, neighbours – or ourselves.
Maybe that sounds sentimental, but there is something about our common experience of the fragility of life, and of the love and hope we have for the futures of our children, that disarms us and opens us to God’s work of peacemaking in our lives.
In a 1985 song about the Cold War and threat of nuclear annihilation, Sting reminds of our common humanity by focusing on children: “I hope the Russians love their children, too.”
The story of Christmas is the story of God breaking into our human lives in the birth of Jesus. In coming to us in a vulnerable newborn child born in precarious circumstances, God disarms us, opening us to peace and reconciliation in our lives and world. God’s peace is never possible through force or domination.
As Luke writes (Luke 2: 10-12): “The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour … this will be a sign for you: you will find a child’.”