You have just seen and heard the familiar story of Jesus’ birth. Birth: in so many ways it is an ordinary event. You and I are here today because someone, somewhere, at some time gave birth. Birth happens all the time; right now, this very minute, women are giving birth across the globe. And Mary, mother of Jesus, also gave birth. The Gospel gives us no details; only Matthew and Luke mention the birth in less than one line, but we should not be at all surprised. Birthing has always been (until very recently) a woman’s experience, and women’s experiences have often been ignored. And yet in this story, in the ordinary experience of giving birth, God is intimately involved. And that is what the Christmas story is really all about: God entering into the most ordinary of human experiences. Yes, God meets us in the ordinary. We do not have to search in some exotic way to find God. God comes to us; God meets us, and in fact, God can and does meet us in birth.
I am here today as a minister, because I have given birth----4 times. When I was pregnant with my first child, about two weeks before she was born, it was a hot, sticky July night in Boston, and I had trouble sleeping, trouble getting comfortable. Tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep around 4 AM, just a few hours before I needed to arise for my job at MIT, where I worked as an administrative assistant. It was then I had this dream. I dreamed that my husband had the baby for me. He came to me, holding in his arms this beautiful newborn and said, “Look what I have done for you. I have saved you from giving birth.” Obviously very proud of his accomplishment, he expected me to show my gratitude. But I was furious. What have you done? I demanded. You have stolen from me a piece of the divine. And then with a start, I awoke, and with relief could feel my still pregnant belly.
The dream was disturbing to me, because at that point in my life, I thought of myself as an unbeliever. Oh, I had been raised in the church, a liberal Presbyterian, but in college I had read the great atheistic thinkers: Feuerbach, Marx and Freud, and looking at the world in all its messiness and evil and pondering it all, I concluded that these great thinkers were right. God is a projection, a fulfillment of wishes, even an opiate of the people, who promise rewards in heaven while they suffer injustice here on earth. So why this dream, this message that birth is a piece o the divine? Was my unconscious trying to tell me something? Was God trying to tell me something I had been ignoring ? “It’s hormones,” my husband insisted. He was a PHD student in molecular biology at Tufts Medical School, and biologists were and are the great reductionists. But I was not so sure this could all be reduced to hormones.
And so when I was giving birth during that period known as transition, (and those of you who have had unmedicated births, know it is the hardest time), when the waves of contractions come rushing on and on and on, and you are ready to call it quits---take me home now, I insisted. I don’t want to do this any longer; it was then, with Dr. Charles Edes gently commanding, “Relax into the contraction; don’t fight it; work with it, it was then that an image came to my mind’s eye, an image I had seen in an art book of a female Buddha, squatting to give birth with such a completely serene expression on her face. And I tried very hard to concentrate, to keep that image in my mind’s eye. In less than a year I returned to church and two years after that I enrolled in seminary. Hormones? No, it was far more than that. I wanted to know something more about this piece of the divine that met me in the experience of giving birth.
In seminary I would be transformed by the thinking of Paul Tillich, the great Protestant theologian of the 20th century, who named God “The Ground of Being.” Like a great womb, I thought, stretching, straining, taut, yet marvelously elastic, the great Ground of Being releases us into life. Ultimately, there must be separation, or there can be no life at all, but we are never so separated that we are completely cut off. And that too is the story of Christmas. Yes, there is separation and even heartache. Herod tried to murder the newborn king, whom he saw as a threat to his power, and he murdered other innocent babies, whose mothers must have wondered where God was for them. Power: it is always a theme, then and now. Who has the power and who tries to grab it?
But in this story the power in this story belongs to a mother and her baby as well as all the characters, who bothered to show up. Mary gave birth, and God was there and is there, in each birth, in each life, though admittedly sometimes God’s presence does seem hidden. Yet God does show up in the most ordinary experiences of human life, including birth, and with God the ordinary can become extraordinary.
About Our Pastor:
I am very happy to be here at the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Unionville, CT. I arrived here in July, 2017, and have been warmly received. This is a wonderful church community. I have been an ordained minister for over three decades now, and I consider it a great privilege and challenge to be called to serve. Before coming to Unionville I served churches on Long Island, Middletown, CT and then ten years in New Haven, Center Church on the Green. My home is in Middletown, where I live with my husband, Donald Oliver, who is a professor of molecular biology at Wesleyan University. We have four grown children, two boys and two girls and three granddaughters, the youngest born on October 3, 2017!