For Unto Us a Child Is Born
Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Every time I hear this prophecy from Isaiah, I think back to 1972. That was the year we had this big community-wide Easter sunrise service in Prosper, Texas. I was in seminary at the time and serving as student pastor of the Prosper Methodist Church. We’d been there less than a year, and, being the new kid on the block, I was to be the preacher for the service.
Well, we were expecting and, as it happened, the week before Easter was the week our first son, John, was born. As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time between Prosper and the hospital in McKinney that week. Needless to say, my thoughts were anywhere but the sunrise service.
Little did I know it, but, in my absence, the Presbyterian pastor, F. K. Mullendore, supplied the title for my sermon. When I got to the church just before sunrise and looked at the bulletin, there it was in bold face type – Rev. McLarty’s sermon was, “For Unto Us a Child is Born!” It was not exactly what the folks were expecting to hear on Easter Sunday morning. But, I guess it was prophetic because all I can remember from the service – and what some folks in Prosper still talk about to this day – was that, next to the Easter proclamation, “He is Risen!” was a proclamation of my own: “It’s a boy!”
“For unto us a child is born …” That, in a word, is the Christmas story.
Thinking back to the days when our children were born – and then, later, as the grandchildren began to come along – these are among the most memorable experiences of my life. Witnessing the birth of a baby is about as close to a miracle as you can get. And I speak as a father. I can only imagine the experience from a mother’s perspective.
When John was born, fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room. But then, we were so young and naïve, we didn’t even think to ask.
When Patrick was born, we asked, but the doctor said flat no. It wasn’t until Christopher, our youngest, was born that I got to be a part of the delivery. Being there – hearing his first cries, holding him while he was still dripping with embryonic fluid – it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’d ever had in my life.
But then, I was so caught up in the process of delivery, I scarcely knew what was going on. It all happened so fast.
Years later, when Noah was born, I got to stand back and savor every moment. As a grandparent, you get all the rewards, and you don’t have to do any of the work!
And then, when Jordan came into this world and the doctor told John and Jennifer, “Congratulations, you’ve got a little girl!” – oh my! My heart stopped. I lost my breath. After having three sons and a grandson, she was the cat’s meow!
Well, all this makes me wonder what Joseph and Mary must have experienced that night Jesus was born. The scriptures don’t give us much to go on, but I can imagine they were just as proud and awestruck as any of us would’ve been. And, like us, they would have seen in their precious little baby all of their hopes and dreams of the coming years as a family together.
When he was only five, my son, John, learned this little song by Bill Gaither and sang it in church one Sunday morning. It goes,
“I am a promise, I am a possibility;
I am a promise with a capital P;
I’m a great big bundle of potentiality!”
Wrapped up in those swaddling cloths was more than a newborn infant, it was the embodiment of Mary and Joseph’s hope and promise and the fulfillment of their lives. I can imagine Joseph thinking about how, one day, he’d get Jesus a set of tools and teach him to work with his hands and be a craftsman, to make things useful and long-lasting – and Mary, how she’d tell him stories and sing him songs, and how she’d teach him to be useful around the house and to listen to his heart, as well as to other people.
Babies symbolize our hopes and dreams for the future, and, thinking about the future, these are the types of things every parent longs for with their children.
But in the case of Jesus’ birth, there’s more, for wrapped up in the birth of Jesus are not only the hopes and dreams of Mary and Joseph, but the hopes and dreams of all creation. Phillips Brooks said it best when he wrote,
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet, in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
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In Jesus lies not only the hope of a new life that has come into this world, but of a new creation that has dawned in the fullness of time. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes,
“For we know that the whole creation
groans and travails in pain together until now.
Not only so, but ourselves also,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit,
even we ourselves groan within ourselves,
waiting for adoption, the redemption of our body.”
The birth of Jesus signals the start of a new covenant and a new order of being in which God judges us not on the basis of our righteousness, but on the basis of his grace and love. And this is the Good News:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)
Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth, all right, but that’s only the beginning. What we celebrate at Christmas is actually the beginning of a new way of life made possible by the birth,life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
• … a new way of life when “nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.” (Micah 4:3)
• … a new way of life when “The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
• … a new way of life when “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
• … a new way of life when “…God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more. The first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
In the New Creation, we’ll regard others not on the basis of wealth and power, but on how sensitive and caring and compassionate they are toward those in need. Love will be our greatest strength, and the willingness to forgive, our defining trait; and every time we see an act of kindness, especially toward one who can’t begin to reciprocate or repay, we’ll know that the New Creation of Jesus Christ is near.
Well, it all began with the birth of Jesus, and this is what I hope you’ll take home with you: The birth of Jesus we celebrate on Christmas Day is the beginning of new life for everyone who’s willing to follow in his footsteps and walk in the light of his forgiveness and love.
May the joy of Christmas and the reality of the New Creation be yours, now and always. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2005, Philip W. McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.