The image of birth is a powerful one, whether physical birth or a metaphysical rebirth. Birth, the force of new life, transcends culture and geography and time. While giving birth may be a more visceral concept for women than for men, some Christians refer to their spirituality as “born again,” signaling the start of something new in their lives.
The Christmas story that we have just commemorated is full of joy for the Messiah’s arrival, but it also narrates a very difficult birth. The conception was miraculous, the pregnancy was unusual, and the delivery took place in a vastly uncomfortable setting. Of course, anyone who has given birth can attest that it is not the easiest day. Birth requires stamina and energy and trust and, in the end, surrender to a force greater than oneself. As a new year will be metaphorically born Sunday, now is an apt moment to ask ourselves, as people of faith: to what glorious new reality do we hope to give birth in the coming year?
Much will happen in 2017, much of it out of our control. For now, 2017 is a mystery that has yet to unfold. Babies will be born, old folks will die, young people will graduate, couples will marry or divorce. Anything can change. Everything can change. If we are believers, we know that our God is ultimately in charge of all that may happen. But we also know that God’s soft insistent voice is nudging us to do our part in the divine scheme.
The literal meaning of "renaissance" is "rebirth," and perhaps we can think about a spiritual renaissance during this time when we make our traditional resolutions. We can think of each new day as pregnant with possibility, as an opportunity for birth. We expect that to which we give birth to outlast us, so as we grow and age, we are wise to try to engender things that will stand as our legacy, our contribution to our fellow humans. And not actual things so much as the examples we set: the way we treat others, the way we stand up for those unable to fend for themselves, the way we forgive those who hurt us, and the way we welcome God’s will into our lives. We can give birth to a new kindness and a new compassion.
The opposite of birth is infertility, and we can become spiritually barren. When we turn our back on God, when we are defeatist in our thoughts, when we lose hope in the prospect of a better world, when we become cynical or unmovable or unloving, we will give birth to nothing. We become stagnant, and we start to die in spirit. Sometimes it feels like an easier path to give up, to give in, and to accept the emptiness that threatens to overtake our souls. This is the desperate time when we often turn to prayer, where we find a God who will fill us with expectancy if we ask.
We women are born with all of our eggs in our tiny ovaries, ready to mature each month as we cycle. As we get older, our physical eggs expire, making our years to give birth to babies a rather small slice of our adult lives. But our spiritual eggs have no age limit. Both men and women are designed to continue to learn, to discover, to experience, to grow, and to become better versions of ourselves. We never lose the potential to give birth to new ideas, new hope and new love. This, in fact, is our lifelong holy mission: to bring the light of God ever more brightly to this world as a reflection of the next. What brilliant wonders shall we give birth to in 2017?