Over the course of his career my father delivered over three thousand Melbourne babies. He never got over the miracle of birth. A devout man, each squishy squalling mewling baby boy or girl was a unique and wonderful gift from God and he always felt humbled and privileged to help bring a child safely into the world.
Growing up we got used to his odd hours and late nights and abandoned cups of tea all around the house because he was so often on call. Babies have a complete and healthy disregard for the timing of their arrival, so cold chops and missing family events and being late to things was the pattern of family life that we seven children knew as normal.
At his funeral were a number of women whose babies, the first or the fifth or all of them, he had delivered. They remembered his kindness in staying with them all night, especially in the days before the father was welcomed into the maternity suite and the private miracle of birth became a much more public spectacle. My father believed in the blessedness of each and every birth; hope reborn again and again in the gift of new life.
As we remember the timeless Christmas story, we celebrate the creation of families in all their messy, rambunctious, squabbling bond of blood, of the parents and the children and the grandparents and uncles and aunties, and the joys and jousting of that shared life.
We remember Mary clasping her beloved child and pondering, as all new mothers do, what would become of him. How that tightly swaddled babe must have nuzzled and suckled and murmured gently at his mother’s touch as she crooned her maternal lullaby of love and gazed into that little face and thanked God for her first born. How Joseph, too, must have assumed his paternal role, loving this tender tot as his own, taking on the mantle of protector and provider.
The joy of a first born child is world changing. Everything forever is reconfigured; mothers and fathers are made and their world is never the same again. It is changed again when siblings arrive to add to the colour, clamour and cost, although no price can attend the new love that blooms each time a child is born. The birth of a child heralds a story of hope; a hope in the blessings of life and the joys of a new family member; a hope in the reaching of potential; a hope for this life to be lived fully and fruitfully all its destined days; a hope for the future and how it is shaped by the next generation.
In a world that can sometimes seem uncertain and chaotic, when we are not sure of what will happen next, the birth of a child is a source of hope. It is something blessedly normal in a world that has found itself tilting in a strange new precarity of existence. Recently, I became a grandmother for the first time and although I have yet to hold little Elena, who is in Geelong with her tired and doting parents, my prayers are all for the hope of her future. We have almost daily updates with photos and videos and watch delightedly as her eyes dart inquisitively and she jiggles her little body in an effort to move. As we recover from this strange year of lockdown, curfew and social distancing we wonder what the new normal will be when things start to settle in a post-Covid world. What we do know is that we have been forced to think more deeply about things that matter for us as individuals, as families and as communities. We do not have closure or resolution yet post-pandemic, but we do have those we love around us or at a contactable distance. Collectively, we are waiting for things to improve and we know that our future will look different as we recalibrate our social and work settings.
As we celebrate this gentle Bethlehem time in our lives, we recognise Jesus, babe in the manger under a star-spangled sky, as hope incarnate. The tableau of the holy family reminds us of our own holy families, perhaps larger and noisier and more opinionated, but the unit where we feel most at home, most accepted, most loved. We will exchange trinkets and treasures with family and friends and tell new stories over long lunches during this much longed-for festive season. We will bid adieu to a 2020 none of us could have imagined this time a year ago and acknowledge some hard lessons learned and a great deal of good will and sacrifice made for the common good. We will look for any reason to celebrate as we emerge from restrictions and find joy in the smallest things.
We will look ahead with hope to 2021 as we give thanks for that long-ago birth in a far-away land that has given us the greatest gift of all – eternal life.
This is our never-ending story.
By Ann Rennie