Receiving the Child Within
December 23, 2007
First Presbyterian Church
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
I thought I would start us off with a prayer. This prayer is from the movie Taladega Nights: The Saga of Ricky Bobby. Ricky Bobby is a NASCAR racer. And pretty successful. In this scene he and the family, his wife their two sons, his friend Cal Jr. and his wife’s father are ready to sit down to a meal. Tomorrow is a big race day.
Ricky Bobby prays:
Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers in the south call you, HeyZeuss. We thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just wanna take time to say thank ya for my family. My two beautiful, beautiful, handsome striking sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, or TR as we call him. And of course my red hot smokin’ wife, Carly, who is a stone cold fox….I also want to thank you for my best friend and teammate Cal Jr. who’s got my back no matter what. Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we also thank you for my wife’s father, Chip. We hope you can use your Baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg. It smells terrible and the dogs are always botherin’ with it. Dear Tiny Infant Jesus,
(At this point his prayer is interrupted by his wife who says, “Hey, you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him ‘Baby’. It’s a bit odd and off-puttin to pray to a baby.”)
I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to grown up Jesus or teenage Jesus or bearded Jesus or whoever you want.
You know what I want. I want you to do this grace good, so that God will let us win tomorrow.
Ricky prays again: Dear Tiny Jesus: your golden fleece diapers with your tiny little fat balled up fist…
(Grandpa interrupts: He was a man and he had a beard)!
Look, says Ricky. I like the baby version the best do you hear? I win the races and I get the money!
(Carly says: Ricky…finish the damn grace).
(Cal Jr. speaks: I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt. It says, “I want to be formal, but I’m here to party, too. ‘Cause I like to party so I like my Jesus to party).
(Little Texas Walker speaks: I like to picture Jesus as a Ninja, fightin’ off evil Samurai).
Cal Jr. again: I like to think of Jesus with giant eagle’s wings and singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Sknyrd with like an angel band. And I’m in the front row and I am hammered drunk).
(Carly speaks: Hey Cal: why don’t you just shut up?)
(Ricky Bobby continues his prayer):
Dear eight pound, six ounce, newborn infant Jesus, you don’t even know a word yet. Just a little infant, so cuddly, yet still omnipotent. We just thank you for all the races I have won and the 21 point 2 million dollars.
(wooh, wooh, wooh, oww!)
Love that money! That I have accrued over this past season. Also due to a binding endorsement contract that stipulates that I mention Powerade at each grace, I just wanna say that Powerade is delicious, and it cools you off on a hot summer day. We look forward to Powerade’s release of Mystic Mountain Blueberry. Thank you for all your power and your grace, Dear Baby God. Amen.
Amen. Ummm. Let’s eat!
That was Ricky Bobby’s prayer from Talladega Nights.
I do hope I have not ruined your Christmas with that. I know that a code of ethics for preachers is to do no harm, so if preachers can’t say something holy about Christmas, they shouldn’t say anything.
I want to defend Ricky Bobby and his prayer to the infant, baby Jesus.
Christmas is larger than Easter at the popular level. It is the biggest holiday of the year. It celebrates among a number of things, the birth of a baby. Now of course, the theologians will tell us that it just isn’t any baby, it is the Christ, the son of God, who came to save the world and grew up and possibly grew a beard and died and a cross.
We nod. But we know what we like. We like babies.
I could probably get away with never having a sermon. I could make worship an extended children’s sermon and folks would be happy. When we have a children’s sermon and the kids are saying cute things and even when they are sitting there being children, staring…all of you light up.
Yea, bring in the babies.
When a family is lighting the Advent candle, don’t try to pretend that you are paying attention to the liturgy and the significance of the candle. You are watching the baby.
I don’t criticize. I do, too.
It is the baby, the child, the littler the better, who captures our hearts and gives us delight.
Babies touch us. There is something of the sacred of the divine about them. In an excellent essay entitled “Honor the Child”, psychologist Marlene Winnell writes:
On the deepest level, the Child connects to matters of the soul. By this I mean essence – the way we actually experience being alive. This is not the Christ child or just a symbol of hope -- this is the Original Child that is in each of us. This is the Child we all know is still present but may be lost or buried. Our life patterns, our “personalities,” our many roles, our anxieties, our regrets, our plans, our endless thoughts, all conspire to distance us from who we once were – infants with magical capability for presence and joy.
Interestingly, in the spiritual Balinese culture, babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first year of life. They are considered closer to God than adults. In any culture, one only needs to look into an infant’s eyes to see a being that is absolutely in the present, that has no agenda whatsoever, that is open to the simple miracle of being alive. This delight is pure and plain in a smile, a look, a wriggle of total energy. The ego has not emerged; there is just being. Worries about the past and concerns for the future do not exist; the moment is timeless, endless… infant joy of this kind is the natural, inevitable consequence of presence.
When Katy was just a little over a week old, (see here I am telling a baby story about my own grown-up daughter). Anyway when Katy was about a week old, the three of us went to a Japanese restaurant. The hostess scolded us a bit for bringing this baby out into the public.
She said we never allow babies outside the home for one month.
There is a sacredness a holiness about babies. In spite of Christianity’s emphasis on original sin, we really don’t believe it.
I heard a wonderful story about a girl about four or five. Her parents gave her a little brother. One night her parents watched her standing up over the crib, talking to her little baby brother. This is what she said: “Tell me what God is like. I forgot.”
The child reminds us of the holy.
There are many images of the sacred to be taken from the wealth of stories and traditions surrounding Christmas over the centuries. Perhaps the most enduring is the image of the child, the sacred child, the Divine Child who delights us and calls us back to our true selves.
As we grow older we forget who God is. We forget the joy of presence. We collect identities and agendas, guilt, shame, anxieties, desires, and blame. It isn’t all simply negative of course. We learn right and wrong, we learn to reason, to share, to care for others, and to care for ourselves.
But there is something to be said for honoring the child. The child is vulnerable. The child needs care. The child is dependent. We, too, ultimately, even though we try to pretend we are self-sufficient also are vulnerable and dependent. We, too, need care.
Inside of each of us is a child. It is a child who has been hurt and who is frightened. Psychologists remind us that our attitudes behaviors and emotions and decisions and values are those we learned in childhood. We constantly live out our childhood and those roles given to us by our families of origin. We are not conscious of it, yet we live out those scripts.
We are not imprisoned by them. We can discover these scripts. We can remember our childhood and name the roles we were given. In so naming them, we can choose to do something different. Christmas can be a time to recall our own childhoods, whether they were painful or joyful, or a bit of both.
Whether or not, we, like Ricky Bobby, pray to the eight pound six ounce tiny infant baby Jesus, we can honor the sacredness of the child—to pay attention to that child within us.
Christmas is a time to embrace that child within us, who needs our love and care.