What Child Is This?
Barb Harmon of Claremont, CA, USA
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the LORD; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth. -Psalm 96:11-13
(The words for this prayer emerged during nap time in the one-year-old classroom. As Christmas music played, I was overwhelmed by the paradox of their innocence and the many conflicts and great suffering in our world. I found myself holding back tears [so as not to alarm the other teachers] as I looked one by one into their sleeping faces-these children who minutes before had been pushing, biting, and crying [because they are one-year-olds]-and in each one, even as I knew how they would act when they woke up, I saw the peace of Christ embodied. But I also recognized it is a peace that requires nurturing and patience midst fear of each other.)
God of unfettered hope,
We have told the story and we have waited, and now our waiting is almost over. As we kneel again before the manger, to gaze with wonder and awe, bless us with the expectation of fulfillment of the mystery we see. How can it be that this humble and vulnerable child represents the hope of all the ages?
We tiptoe into this sacred space, wanting to observe. But we stay silent, because in our inner beings, we don’t want to awaken this sleeping child. We are fearful of what participation in this mystery might mean for us. What does it mean to put our hope in this child? What does it mean to live into a story where, after the peace and joy of this night, the next words recorded are the massacre of innocent children? And to recognize that as we seek to welcome this child, vulnerable children around the world are, in this very moment, engulfed in suffering? What is our complicity in this suffering? What does it mean to confront our own sin, fear, and tendency to exclude? How can this community act to proclaim “And on earth, Peace!” when we are still afraid of each other in this place?
God, bless us this night to hear this story anew, to hear how this story calls us. Be patient with us as we both desire and resist the transforming impulse at work in the depths of our beings. Shape our lives and this community of Christ so that mutually our deepest yearning might be to embody this hope and invitation-Emmanuel, God with us! Bless us with the same trembling in our souls that the shepherds encountered-the trembling that manifests as fear converted to wonder. Nurture in us the ways of peace. Help us live in the tension of that which we cannot comprehend-joy and suffering, peace and conflict, manger and cross. And send us with these words-as both question and hope-that persistently invite us into the mystery of the kingdom already among us: What child is this?
In the name of Jesus, the embodiment of hope and peace, Amen.
Advent Prayer Phrase
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).
Advent Spiritual Practice
Breathe deeply and spend a few moments inviting silence to deepen around you. Pay attention to what is forming in you this day as you prayerfully consider the following questions: What awareness or gift begins to emerge in you through the practice of waiting? When do you notice being invited to resist rushing to the next thing and remain present with what may be slowly unfolding? What can you learn from being fully present in the waiting times?
Today’s Prayer for Peace
Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.