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Colossians 3:12-17

My sister asked me to be present for the birth of her first child. When the time came, and I was holding her hand through excruciation contractions, the best encouragement I could whisper was this: “Imagine what it will be like to hold your baby.” They tell you in birthing classes that women in labor don’t want to hear things like “You’re almost there!” or “Just a few more pushes!” unless, of course, you’re the doctor and you know for sure that these things are true. They do, however, want to hear everything you can tell them about their babies, from their heart rate levels to their hair color, from where the baby might be along the birth canal to how it feels when a tiny hand wraps itself around your pinky finger. One nurse told me that positioning a mirror at the end of the hospital bed so a laboring mother can actually see the baby’s head emerging is one of her best tricks for helping get women through the laboring process. The baby is what makes the pain bearable, not the drugs. (Although I’m told the drugs don’t hurt.)

I remember what it was like, as the mystery of having a baby that I could only feel move inside my stomach, transitioned, in the space of a few short hours, to being a baby I could hold in my arms. And one of my favorite parts of being in the room for my nephew’s birth was this: watching my sister and her husband transform into parents. It was like watching the earth’s axis shift. This is what, or rather whom, they would bend their universes around. From now on. They would stay up most of the night nursing, they would develop the ubiquitous hushabye bounce that new parents walk around with, they would spend hours researching diaper rash and nap schedules and what the heck to do with the soft spot on the top of his head. This would be their new way of life, and there would never again be a day in which they wouldn’t list as part of their identities: Lennox’s parents.

Identity shifts like these don’t happen very often in a lifetime.

John Wesley describes one of these moments, the moment he dedicated the rest of his life for Christ, as the moment his “heart strangely warmed.” And, even though his description is short, I think I understand it.

When I was a teenager, I chose a Life Verse. I’m not exactly sure where this tradition came from, or if it is necessarily helpful, but it was what we did–in my youth group, at least. The verse I chose was Colossians 3:17: “For whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Christ Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” I think this choice tells you a lot about teenaged me: I was an earnest idealist with perhaps a bit too much confidence. I liked this verse because it didn’t leave anything out: whatever you do. I would choose my words, my actions, and even my breakfast according to Christ.

Of course this didn’t always play out. If you look back at the choices I’ve made since that day, there are many that fall short of such a high ideal. So many moments of mistake, regression, omission, or flat-out rebellion. I’d forget. I’d ignore. I’d harden. I’d bend. If I had a flaw in how I approached this passage as a teenager, it was probably that I read and embraced these words a little too easily, that I didn’t realize their weight.

Because this passage describes an identity shift.

It involves seeing the person of Jesus and undergoing a fundamental change. This isn’t just another rule; it is a way of life. Whatever you do, do it all for Jesus. As Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C Keesmaat write, in their beautiful book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire: “Let this word become your first vocabulary; let it be the lens through which you engage the world. Let this word–this word of truth which is the gospel of Jesus, this narrative of redemption–provide you with the metaphors with which you make sense of life.” [1]

Let it become your hushabye bounce.

This passage’s placement in the lectionary is also interesting: Christmas Eve, right alongside the stories of Jesus’s birth in a manger.

I wonder what the birthing night was like for Joseph and, especially, for Mary. Because, though the song wonders “Mary, did you know?” the Gospels seem to tell us that Mary did know. Mary knew that this baby was unlike other babies; that this baby would deliver the world. And so Mary had to have felt an axis shift like none other: she would, 1. Become a mother; and 2. Bring the Son of God into the world.

Her universe would bend around Jesus in ways that the rest of us probably wouldn’t understand, and whatever she would do, whether in word or deed, she would do it all in this new reality. She was Jesus’s. [1] Walsh, Brian J., and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.