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Every Child Is Holy

In her book For the Time Being, Annie Dillard weaves an utterly bizarre collage of images. One image she keeps coming back to is Nurse Eisberg, an obstetrical nurse in a large urban hospital. Reminding us that 10,000 American babies are born each day, Dillard describes the nurse’s work:

"Here on the obstetrical ward, is a double sink in a little room ... This is where they wash the newborns like dishes ... Nurse Eisberg lifts them gently, swiftly, efficiently ... She wipes white lines of crumbled vernix from folds in his groin and under his arms. She holds one wormy arm and one wormy leg to turn him over; then she cleans his dorsal side, and ends with his anus. She diapers him ... and gives the bundle a push to slide it down the counter.…"
[Annie Dillard, For the Time Being (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), pp. 36-38.]

A baby assembly line, day after day, week after week — babies processed like canned hams — clean, compact, utterly ordinary. I wonder, would Nurse Eisberg even recognize Jesus if he was born in her hospital and dunked in her sink? Probably not. When you’ve seen one baby you’ve seen them all. And so, my friends, either each baby is holy, or none of them are holy at all. I believe that the Christmas story proclaims loudly that every child is holy — that each one of us is holy....

As any parent sitting in this sanctuary knows, vulnerable babies drastically change our lives. They disturb, they delight, and ultimately they demand. Sleep is disrupted forever, anxiety develops angles never before imagined, feelings of inadequacy become daily companions, and waves of sadness can, at times, overwhelm us. We become totally, completely enmeshed in the fabric of a baby’s life, and we are changed forever. Babies are gifts, but they are costly, exhausting gifts.

And so it is with the baby God of this night. Tonight God chooses — purposely chooses — to come in simplicity and vulnerability to disturb us, to delight us, and to make strong demands upon us. God comes to enmesh us in the sacred story. And if we choose to pick up this baby Jesus, our lives will never be the same. Self-absorbed ambition and success can never again be our main reason for being. The world is no longer just a backdrop for our own personal agenda. When this baby interrupts our lives, we must begin to think about someone, something, some purpose beyond our own.

From "Vital Vulnerability," a sermon by Susan R. Andrews