|O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
Mild he lays his glory by, born that men no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Last week, my laptop went on strike. I started getting messages that I was not allowed to open documents, that I needed permission from who knows who. I didn’t know what to do. I was ready to buy new software. Maybe a new laptop. A new career. A friend gave me the number of a tech guy who asked if I had tried restarting. I did. The problem went away. My laptop just needed a new start. Sometimes I need that too.
A friend, a clergyman, found his seat on the plane. Wearing his clerical collar, the passenger next to him dove into conversation about religion. As the flight continued, my friend was held captive, subject to inquisition. When the passenger found out he was Episcopalian, it was time to check bona fides. So my friend was asked: “Have you been born again?” My friend answered: “I have been born again. And again. And again.” He made the point that renewal is something that happens repeatedly.
Theologian Karl Barth had a similar exchange with an American evangelical. He was challenged to name the exact time and place when he had been born again. The questioner was quite sure the eminent theologian couldn’t do it, which would indicate that Dr. Barth was not really a Christian after all. Dr. Barth answered: “I was born again. At three o’clock on the first Good Friday on a hill outside of Jerusalem.” He made the point that being re-born is God’s work, not our own.
Carols of Christmas make the same point. Two examples are found above.
Admittedly, the notion of being born again carries baggage in our culture. It can be loaded language. For some, it has become a litmus test. The phrase ‘born again” originates in Jesus’ late night conversation with Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, chapter 3 (a.k.a., Nick at Nite). Jesus tells this religious leader, someone on in years, that he must be born again or born from above or born anew. Nicodemus doesn’t get it. His systematic theology did not leave room for this idea that we need to start again, that the Holy One needs to be born in each one of us, again and again and again.
Christmas comes as a season of new life. As carols indicate, it’s all about the moment in time when one particular child was born in Bethlehem. But as the collect printed in the intro indicates, it’s also about the moment in time when we can be born again, or born anew, or born from above. As my friend indicated, that can happen again and again.
As we move through this Christmas season (It’s more than just one day!), what new thing might be born in you? How might you be open to new life, to God’s gracious and creative work? Once we recognize that that work has been done, how will we live into it, growing and deepening a life with God? O holy child of Bethlehem…be born in us today.