The story of the incarnation is an invitation for us to consider our own annunciations.
I stand in the dim delivery room, swaddled by hushed voices and beeping machines. In the center of the quiet hubbub is a tiny human—somehow more present than anything else there. My younger brother stands nearby, too: a proud father, a small blood stain of birth on his shirt that he later asks my mom not to wash out. I held this brother in my arms when he was as small as the squalling infant before me. I watched him push himself away from our family and then pull into our orbit again. I saw him moments before he told our parents there was a surprise baby on the way.
We waited for my nephew for months. The days following his due date seemed like eons. Now the nurse carries him to a small table and pricks his wrinkled feet—a wail—completing the regular postpartum tests. My little brother stands above his protesting son, gently rubbing the baby’s squirming torso in calming circles, skin to skin. “Shhh,” he whispers in his crying child’s ear. “Shhhhh. I’m right here. I’m right here.” He kisses his forehead.
This is the sibling who teased me mercilessly in our adolescence, who scoffed at our childhood games and rolled his eyes at any hint of the saccharine. This same brother leans over his newborn son and whispers love and assurance with deep tenderness. I am raw with the realness of it.
In the season of Advent, we ready and open our hearts to encounter God’s gestation and birth in the places around us. We light candles in preparation. We sing hymns of longing and set up an empty manger the way expectant parents set up a crib. This is as it should be—Christ’s birth is a gift. And I also wonder about the smaller, less obvious births that are part of something new coming into the world. I left the delivery room with weak and shaking knees not, primarily, because I had been awed by my newborn nephew. Rather, I had witnessed my brother newly born as a parent, and I was overcome.
The story of the incarnation is an invitation for us to consider our own annunciations, our own receiving and gestating of the presence of God in the world. Jesus was not the only one born in the Christmas story; Mary, Joseph, the animal herders, Anna and Simeon, Elizabeth, and maybe even the innkeeper: each of these persons was birthed into a new awareness, a new role, and a new reality when they encountered the Word made flesh. Mary was anointed as a prophet, proclaiming a song of justice we still sing millennia later. Joseph and Elizabeth each deepened in trust as they stepped into the parenting roles to which they had been called. The gospel of Luke tells us that the shepherds told everyone they met about what they had seen, growing wonder and amazement in the people of God. The nativity of the Son of God is only one of the many births we commemorate in the Christmas story.
I am born again each moment I witness the coming of God.
In his conversation with the earnest but skeptical follower Nicodemus, Jesus issued the well-known invitation to be “born again.” Many of us have experienced this language in heavy-handed or even harmful ways, and yet it can be a powerful metaphor, especially viewed not as a one-time event but as something cyclical. What if each Advent and Christmas celebration calls us into the miracle of being born again as witnesses to the love of God? If we are willing to show up fully to the birth of God among us, what new vision or reality will be born in us? In the people around us? Who will we be when we emerge on the other side?
My nephew is now almost eight years old. I love him for his precocious self, of course, and there is also something incomparably moving each time I see my brother scoop this bundle of pizazz into his arms and hold him tightly. I’m reminded of that liminal moment in the delivery room, when I watched my nephew’s arrival give birth to something new in my brother. I am born again into awe and gratitude. I am born again each moment I witness the coming of God.