In the days before Christmas three years ago I had a vision. When I closed my eyes I could almost put myself in the Bethlehem stable of Christian lore. As if I was looking on from the hayloft I watched as the young girl gave birth surrounded (as the story goes) by oxen and cattle and a donkey or two.
Wait a minute I thought. She's 14 years old. She's far away from home. She's laboring for the first time. Having babies is women's work. Where are the womenfolk to help her? Was Mary's betrothed going to be of any use when her contractions start coming fast and furious ? Or would he wring his rough carpenter's hands and pace around the barn?
I'm guessing it's one thing to be told by an angel that you're about to give birth to a king; and something else all together to be pushing the little Prince of Peace through the birth canal without your mom to wipe your brow. Do you think a heavenly host of angels singing "Glor-or-or-or-ia" in the background was a comfort or distraction?
I admit it ... sometimes I get a little carried away with my imaginings. But it was this vision that "birthed" the idea of having a baby shower in honor of the young Biblical couple. If anyone deserved a party it would have to be Mary and Joseph. All the gifts would be donated to parents in our own neighborhood who might find themselves in similar circumstances (without the donkey of course!) I got a few key people at church to sign off on the idea, and it came to be just like I imagined it. In front of an almost lifesized creche we gathered to sing, pray and gift. It was pretty amazing if I do say so myself.
Fast forward a couple of years. While preparing for the now "annual" event, I got an e-mail advertisement from the Southwest Indian Foundation. To my horror I learned that babies born on the New Mexico Indian reservation come into this world to parents that live below the poverty level. "Mothers do their best, but many live in hogans with no running water and no electricity. Dirt floors and small stoves for heat. Life is hard," wrote Bill McCarthy, CEO of the foundation. (http://www.southwestindian.com/)
Not long after that I got an email from Save the Children with this shocking information: "Each year, at least four million babies die during the first month of life, representing 40 percent of all deaths to children under five. While death rates among all children under 5 have declined in recent decades, newborn death rates have changed very little." I picked up a pair of knitting needles when I read that something as simple as a hat could save a newborn's life. (http://www.savethechildren.org/newsroom/2008/knit-one-save-one.html)
In my mind's eye pictures of waterless Native American homes, African mothers cuddling premature babies the size of Barbie dolls, and handmade caps piled high on the President-elect's desk mixed with the Christmas story like a waring blender set on high. It was in that moment the baby shower idea grew into "The Guild of the Christ Child."
Talk about miracles! I didn't hear any angels singing, but I swear I heard the small still voice of the Creator of all things good. Babies are dying all over the world and I believe I was tasked, just like that other Mary, to do something about it. But what can one person do?
Here's how Bill McCarthy answered that question. "Little by little....we can help. It seems daunting, but really, one baby at a time."
Tomorrow the 3rd Annual Baby Shower will be held. In addition to the regular gifts of clothes, diapers, and formula for our downtown mission, over 65 shoebox layettes have been put together with items donated by local school children, other churches, parishioners and perfect strangers. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people I don't even know. I get goosebumps thinking about the babies whose lives we'll be able to touch.
I close this post with the words of Sophia Lyon Fahs, "Each night a child is born is a holy night.
A time for singing. A time for wondering. A time for worshipping."
To that I say a hearty "Amen,"