This Sunday’s readings are a little apocalyptic; whether one reads Daniel and Mark, or Hannah’s proto-Magnificat, change is in the air, and much of it alarming. Jürgen Moltmann believes that the Christian should not be afraid of the end of the world or its order, since, “Whether this world will come to an end, and whatever that end may be, the Christian hope says: God’s future has already begun. With Christ’s resurrection from the catastrophe of Golgotha the new beginning has already been made, a beginning which will never again pass away because it issues from the victory over transience.” (Jürgen Moltmann, In the end – the beginning: the life of hope (Fortress Press, 2004), 48)
In the hospital where I used to make my rounds, they would play a little piece of Brahms’ Lullaby over the speaker system whenever a new baby was born. It was a reminder, a necessary reminder in the face of pain, and in a place often of deep suffering, that new life was among us, and promised another, more hopeful narrative for this day.
When the music would play, I saw nurses stay their foot in midstep, and smile for a moment. I saw patients who were in on the “secret” snuggle themselves a little closer. I saw orderlies and relatives, too busy and too anxious to take a whole moment glance up at the speaker, in passing, in understanding. I saw doctors too frantic with the pain and the panic before them purse their lips, tense their backs against the onslaught of hope – “Not now!” – and the release, the relenting that followed, more often than not. Of course, it was harder when the death and the life were in the same place, balanced on the plane of existence that wavers between them, but cannot hold them together.
I watched our chaplain supervisor tell a wiped-out intern, “Go bless a baby;” her own medical practice.
The Lord said to Daniel, “There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.” Jesus warned, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” And he himself went through such anguish as bad as any imagined – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – and yet from the tomb was delivered.
And when he, at whose birth angels sang “Glory,” was once more drawn forth, what music did they play, and do we still hear its echoing?