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Born Right the First Time – 12/24/2013

In Lawrence Stern’s great satire of the English novel, his narrator, Tristram Shandy, attempts to show to his audience why his life has been such a muddle by beginning before the beginning – before he is even born. He explains that a legal agreement between his parents entitled his mother to give birth in London, where greater comfort and medical expertise were available. But if there were any false starts – if she made the expensive journey to London, but then had to return because the baby was not ready, then the entitlement was forfeit, and she would have to give birth at home.

This clause was invoked during Tristram’s mother’s pregnancy, and so he was born at home. And because one thing so often leads to another in life, Tristram’s being born in his family’s country home resulted in his having a rather a flat nose, due to the pressure from the forceps that were used somewhat clumsily during his delivery. This thwarted his father’s hopes of having a son with a prominent, distinguished nose, and more disappointments followed from there. Assessing the justice of the legal agreement Trisram’s father made with his mother and held her to, refusing to pay for more than one trip to London, Tristram declared it to be no less than reasonable. “[A]nd yet,” he said, “as reasonable as it was, I have ever thought it hard that the whole weight of the article should have fallen entirely, as it did, upon myself.”[i]

That author, Lawrence Stern, was a clergyman of the Church of England, and he was playing here a bit with a familiar, long-running debate within the Christian tradition: are we humans born broken or whole? For most of their history, the followers of Jesus, or at least their most powerful leaders, have held the former position: that we are, as a species, sinful, degenerate, or otherwise wrong from the beginning, and that some special activity or grace is needed to correct this. This is the primary justification given for the baptism of both infants and adults: that this affects or at least affirms a transformation in the heart. A new spiritual birth to overcome the limitations of that first physical one.

In this belief, the teacher Jesus, whose birthday gathers us here tonight, has long been held to be the exception to this rule: the only person in human history to have been born right the first time – his mother Mary sometimes being given as the other exception. my butters And I online pharmacy pretty the Thanks.

when he should be specific, and then specific when he has not yet learned to be expansive. It is this tincture of brokenness, common to all humanity, that makes the teacher’s lessons learnable, and the example of his life relevant to my own.

There was a time before I was called to be here when I served as a hospital chaplain in a neonatal intensive care unit, where I met a lot of very beautiful, very sick children, and their very tired, very brave families. That’s where I met Agnes. At more than a year old, she was the elder woman of our floor. She and her family had come more than a thousand miles for a surgery that would allow her eyes to see for the first time. It would address only one of the many ways in which her body worked differently than the bodies of other little girls who did not have to live their lives in hospitals. No one would have suggested this little girl, who loved to play, and be hugged by her dad, wasn’t born right. No one could have said that of any of the children whom I met that year. Parents might rage, and cry out to Heaven for the pain and the hardship, faced by their newborn kids. But they were still always their kids, and to be loved most deeply not despite, but because, of all that they were.

Against the tide of history, though by no means alone in that stand, our tradition as Unitarian Universalists tells us that the nature of our own births was not so different from that of a certain child born a little over two thousand years ago in occupied Palestine. Born right enough. Right enough to be loved, and also to love, if we are lucky. Right enough to know that we are flawed – to not only make mistakes, but to learn from them, and to make amends for them. Born right enough to wait in the dark, as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “for the hour when a new clarity is born.”[iii]

My friends and spiritual companions, this Christmas I wish for you the courage and the beauty, to let go of those old stories about why you never were what you or somebody else thought you should be. Instead, may you look towards the birth of new hope and understanding, and with patience and humility, go out and meet it. May we each, moment by moment, grow to become the wonder beyond imagining that it is within us to be. Amen.



[i] From The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

[ii] Between the 5 and 9 o’clock services, one of you pointed out to me the case for Mary. I am grateful, as always, for the correction.

[iii] From Letters to a Young Poet.

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