The Other Baby in the Christmas Story
There is a second baby in the Christmas story that I often forget about: John the Baptist. He is easy to overlook, and yet Luke’s version of the Christmas narrative seems to think he is pretty important. So much so that it concludes, “the hand of God was with him.”
I often skim over that line, but it is meant to make us stop and take notice. If we want to see the hand, and the heartbeat, of God, Luke suggests we look at John.
That “hand of God” is the same hand that fostered life from chaos in Genesis. It is the creative power to bring hope in the darkness of exile. It is the divine flow of love that pushes humanity toward mercy and justice. And a small first century Jewish community saw it in John the Baptist.
But that hand eventually took him to the margins, so he could speak truth to power. To religious institutions that lost their way and to an imperial power that claimed ultimate authority. In John, we see that sometimes the hand and heartbeat of God are found in the voice of dissent, unconcerned about status, donor retention, or public image, so that it can say the hard things we need to hear.
The point of this truth-telling was not to be right, or to prove a point, or to defeat an enemy. It is, as John shows, to “prepare the way of the Lord” — to make space for the divine presence in our midst. In a time where I can easily exist in an echo chamber of my own prerogative, the second baby in the Christmas story demands that I listen to those who are different than me, at least if I want to encounter the divine.
Sam Altis is Research Assistant for the Center for Innovation in Ministry and on staff at CrossWalk Community Church in Napa, CA.