Two Births at Christmas

Life and death
go hand in hand—
the birth of a baby;
the death of a man.

With us he lived,
For us he died.
A child in the manger,
The Christ crucified.

On December 23, 1977, our eldest child was born at Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  After nine months of pregnancy and 7 ½ hours of labor we finally rolled into the delivery room. 

Looking out the window, I noticed something odd—the delivery room overlooked a cemetery.  My initial reaction was “Whoever set up this delivery room wasn’t thinking very straight.  Death should not be allowed to intrude on birth.”

But the more I thought about it, the more it took on a deeper meaning.  Since it was just two days before Christmas, there was an odd juxtaposition of the birth of my daughter, the birth of Jesus and the reminder of death.  Somehow they were all woven together to create a beautiful cloth.  

One strand of the cloth was the cemetery.  It reminded me that all of us are born to die. That can distress us or it can be a source of wisdom.  Psalm 90:11-12 says, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” We ignore our mortality to our own peril, but if we acknowledge it, it sharpens our desires and perceptions so that we learn to focus on what is most important.

The second strand of the cloth was the birth of Jesus.  Like us, Jesus was born to die, but unlike us, his death is redemptive.  Jesus died that we might live.  In pictures of the nativity you can often find a symbol to remind us of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Sometimes it is the shadow of the cross cast upon the manger.  Sometimes it is a sacrificial lamb with feet trussed up to remind us that Jesus is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world.  Sometimes oddly enough it is even a crucifix. 

All of these symbols are there to remind us that Christmas cannot be separated from Good Friday.  The birth of Jesus is merely his first step on the road to the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus was born to die so that we might live.  It is his birth that is the hope of all the people who are buried in that cemetery.  Because of his birth and his death one day they will be resurrected to a new life in heaven.

The third stand of this cloth was the birth of my daughter.  Her birth reminded me that her life was caught up with the life of Jesus. He was born for her, he died for her and it was my hope that all of her life she would live with him.

Elisabeth Joy is now 43 years old with children of her own, but when she was a small child, every night before she went to bed I sang her a lullaby.

Hush, my babe, lie still and slumber;
Guardian angels round thy bed.
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently falling on thy head.

How much better thou art attended
Than the Son of God could be,
When from earth he descended
And became a child like thee.

Soft and easy is thy cradle;
Course and hard thy savior lay.
When his birthplace was a stable
And his softest bed was hay.

Mayest thou come to know and fear him,
Trust and love him all thy days.
Then go dwell forever near him.
See his face and sing his praise.
(“Watts’ Nativity Carol,” Penguin Book of Carols, Volume 2)

This is still my prayer for her, and all my children and grandchildren 43 years later.

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