Michael Faraday had just invented the dynamo – the first means of generating electricity – and showed it to a distinctly unimpressed Queen Victoria, who asked him what use it was. He’s reputed to have replied, ‘what use is a baby?.
Today we see why that was so wrong, as we’ve been enraptured by Kal-El – capturing our attention in his own way. The house is thrown sideways, all the carefully laid plans you make go out of the window, the timetable revolves around feeding times, nappy times and bath times. First bodily functions become a cause of celebration and news. However did you pass your time before Kal-El came along?
Yet, think of it from Kal-El’s point of view. Sitting in wet nappies, either hungry or full of wind, can’t read, can’t talk, can’t understand what’s going on. What an existence!
I wonder what your youngest memory is? The earliest one I’ve heard of is from Tolstoy, who recalled what it was like to be a baby: ‘I am all bound up; I want to stretch out my arms and I cannot, I scream and cry and I hate my own screaming. But I cannot stop. People are leaning over me – I can’t remember who, and everything is shrouded in semi darkness. There are two of them. My screaming affects them; they are anxious; but they do not release me as I want them to, and I scream still louder.’
A lot of people love babies, ladies go all maternal, and I hear people say they’d like babies to stay babies. But I don’t think they really would like that. It would be just too demanding, too wearing.
The important thing about babies is not what they are but what they’ll become. It’s their potential that makes babies more than just living dolls.
Every mother and father has crept into the nursery in the quiet night hours, looked at their sleeping baby, and won¬dered, ‘what’s he going to be when he grows up? What sort of person will he grow to be? What job will he do? Who will he marry? What joys and sorrows, what pride or shame, what laughter and tears will he bring us?’ Potential, that’s the important thing about babies. Potential is what they bring to our families as well. They bring a change of priorities and reactions to a family.
The BBC Audience Research Department says that it’s when babies come that listening habits change. Up until then the majority listen to wall-to-wall pop music. But the sudden load of responsibility means that the couple start listening much more to speech-based programmes. Perhaps some are seeking information and advice.
Then people begin to see that their family has a potential, the probability of advancing into the next generation. This child will go further into the future than you will. Your genes, of course, will be carried on, but so will be your attitudes, your values, your standards – ferried by your children into a world you can only guess at. Now that’s a sobering thought!
What are the attitudes, the values and the standards, that our children will inherit from us? Are they worth passing on? Are they going to help our children be the fine upstanding generation we want them to be, or will they let them down at times of stress?
When babies come into the house we make sure the water is safe for them to drink, the air is as pure as we can make it, we check the food we give them, the bed-clothes we cover them with, and we make sure the cat can’t get in the cot.
We should remember, though, that it’s just as important to examine just as carefully the mental and spiritual diet we give to the children; to be more con¬cerned about giving them good values, noble standards, examples of unselfish and warm loving, generous judge¬ments, and a strong sense of family loyalty and togetherness. The coming of a baby brings great potential. They can become great universities of life, where we all learn to love.
The other potential I want to mention is our own spiri¬tual capacity. This is the factor which in the Church we call being ‘born again’. The term has been brought into disrepute because of religious extremists of various kinds. Their judgemental unkindness does them no credit. One television evangelist said, believe it or not, that Mother Theresa wouldn’t go to heaven because he wasn’t born again.
I did hear a story about one Welsh seaman, a member of a very strict sect, who was dumped on a south sea island when the crew couldn’t stand him any longer. Five years later he was discovered by another ship, and they found to their amazement that he’d built himself two chapels. One he went to every Sunday for his devotions, so they asked him what the other one was for. ‘That,’ he said, drawing him¬self up to his full height, ‘is the one I don’t go to!’ But why should we let such people hijack a perfectly good religious truth?
It started, you might remember, from our reading. Nicodemus, a respected religious leader of many years standing, comes to Jesus by night so as not to be seen. He sees in Jesus much that he admires. He is told, ‘You must be born again – born from above.’ The Greek words carry both meanings.
‘How can a man be born again from above when he is old?’ replies Nicodemus. He is a church leader, has inherited a great tradition of spirituality as a pharisee, he’s tested it in the experience of life, he’s conformed his life to it, mea¬sured his habits, his conduct, his speech, even his thoughts and feelings by it. How can he break away from all this and start again?
Jesus replies, ‘You must first be born of water, go and repent in the Jordan with John the Baptist, then be born in the spirit, come and join my disciples and follow me.’
Did he? There’s a tradition that this timid man was bap¬tised after the resurrection by Peter and John, was deprived of his status by the Jews and banished from Jerusalem.
But the point is that his challenge is everyone’s chal¬lenge. Jesus asked him, and by proxy asks us to, ‘wake up to a new life.’ He throws open the windows to a new world, and says, ‘look at this new dimension. Explore, launch out, be born again.’
There are turning points in all our lives. Times when cir¬cumstances make us change – marriage, illness, unem¬ployment, retirement, bereavement, the coming of a baby. At such times it’s human nature to start to search: for help, for encouragement, for inspiration – as Nicodemus did.
It’s at those times that we get a glimpse of what life is really all about. It’s at those times that Jesus challenges us. Start again, he says – think of the potential. Many times in our lives he says that to us. But this time start from a deeper spiritual basis, build on the ultimate realities that you’ve just discovered lie deep inside you. Start from the truths you’ve just realized in what Jesus tells you. Construct your life anew on the love and joy and peace that he shows you. Be born again from above. Make that new start at a higher level than before, at God’s level.
Today we have gathered here, I know, an enormous range of personal experience – birth, bereavement, retire¬ment, illness…you name it. Between us there’s hardly a facet of human life that we don’t represent.
We bring it all before God, lay the weight of it down, and ask God to bless it and us – that’s what worship is. In return, God gives us the strength and resources to start again, to be born again, to take our strength from on high, and to go from here living on a higher level, with a glint in our eye, and a spring in our step.
That’s the Gospel – that, indeed, is the Good News.