Climbing the euphoric summit of birth is short lived. Months of anticipation and fear of birth pain and birth defects are forgotten when the first rays of life break over that dark valley. When the correct number of extremities is counted and the child exhibits proper motor responses sighs of relief often break into smiles, laughter, or tears of joy. Birth. It is awesome. In the words of Lee Ann Renninger, “awe is surprise that’s stirred by something unfathomably vast or complex. We can’t quite believe it even as we stand before it.”
Mary, Joseph and the remainder of the crowd around Jesus’ cradle experienced the awe of a birth unlike any other. As in any birth, however, it was a beginning. Birth is part of life, but necessarily gives way to more mundane aspects of life development. Diapers must be changed and the excitement of the first cry is followed by groans in the middle of the night when the same sound summons a parent out of a warm bed and deep, often exhausted sleep.
Spiritual birth is not so different. Often it begins with a rush of emotion easily forgotten in the day-to-day activities of spiritual formation. A baby cannot take credit for its birth or life. Likewise, spiritual birth is a gift that is received by faith from God. John Wesley describes two aspects of faith: an assurance of God’s love ‘for me’, from which grows confidence and trust ‘in God’. The birth canal of salvation is the recognition, admission, and forgiveness of wrongdoing, i.e. sin, inherent in every human by nature and personal will.
Spiritual birth is not merely going to heaven or eternal happiness. It is not limited to a distant paradise on the other side of death. It includes a tangible presence of peace, joy, and hope nurtured by our relationship with God. He talks with us, walks with us, guides and empowers us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was born to bring peace on earth and the restoration of humans to their original state of beautiful righteousness. His birth was awesome. Spiritual birth is awesome. Neither are ends in themselves. There is more. Maturing is messy. Messes do not clean themselves. One size does not fit all. It can be difficult to discern just what feels right, looks good, and supports your individual calling in life.
A long obedience in the same direction, however, leads to something so awesome it cannot be described. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”. This is what makes an awesome life. More than the awesome moment when the cradle is filled, it is a long walk with Jesus.