[special_heading title=”Three Men and a Baby” subtitle=”by Timothy J. Mooney” separator=”yes”]Peter, Michael, and Jack. Architect, Artist, and Actor. Bachelors all 3. And swinging ones at that. They own a posh Manhattan townhouse, and NYC is wrapped around their little fingers. Life is good.
Peter returns home one day, unlocks the door and closes it behind him, walking past the baby in a basket. He re-opens the door. Closes it again. Peter says, “Michael, come here a minute. Look outside.” Michael looks through the peephole. “No, no! Look out the door!” Michael looks. “There’s a baby in a basket…a baby in a basket?” They look closer and find a note attached to the basket. “Dear Jack, here’s our baby. Her name is Mary.” Signed, Sylvia. Jack had swung a bit too far.
“What are we supposed to do?” asks Michael. “Jack’s somewhere in the middle of Turkey.” “Pick it up,” says Peter.
“You pick it up!”
“I’m not picking it up.”
“Well, I don’t know how to take care of a baby!”
And the plot is set for the movie, “Three Men and a Baby.” And things only get messier.
Peter goes to buy baby stuff, leaving Mary in Michael’s…care. Mary refuses to stop crying, despite Michael’s attempts at funny faces, cool-the-cat puppet, and Dr. Ruth’s TV show. Finally he picks her up at arms length – as if she is some foreign object, which to him a baby is – and sings half remembered lullaby’s. His frustration at this bundle of disruption crescendos into new lyrics for an old favorite: “Hush little baby don’t you cry, when Peter gets home I’m gonna punch him in the eye.”
At last, Peter arrives. It’s time to change Mary’s diaper. Facial grimaces depict the horror at the smell and proliferation from such a small child. At last they get the diaper on Mary. Proudly, Peter holds Mary aloft. The diaper drops, and you can guess what happens next. Michael says the obvious. “I think we’re in trouble.” After cleaning Mary up in the bathroom sink, Peter wraps her in his sweater and picks her up. That seems to be her cue. Mary messes up Peter’s sweater, Michael’s artwork, Peter’s architectural drawings, messes up their lives.
A week later, unshaven and disheveled, Michael asks Peter, “What did you cancel tonight?” “Box seats at Shea stadium. You?”
“Dinner with Carol.”
The next day, as both get ready for meetings, Mary’s diaper needs changing again.
“It’s your turn,” Michael says to Peter.
Peter says, in all seriousness, “I’ll give you a $1,000 if you do it.”
Mary has completely disrupted their lives.
A babysitter is found, and they rush off to their meetings. Returning home, Peter finds a ransacked apartment, and a bound and gagged babysitter. His first words? “Where’s Mary?!” He runs through the place screaming her name, finds her in a closet, she’s okay. He picks her up, pulls her close, and says, “Thank God.” That night, before she goes to bed, Peter reads to Mary – excerpts from Sports Illustrated. “…and the challenger pummeled the champion’s body, blow after blow, with furious body punches.” Then he lays her in her basket and reclines next to her on the couch, putting his hand in the crib so she can hold onto his finger.
Jack, Mary’s father, returned home from Turkey, and got quite a surprise. “We’ve put our lives on hold, Jack, taking care of your kid!” It was his turn. Michael and Peter, free at long last, take dates to the symphony. But they’re worried about Mary in Jack’s…care. Peter calls, no answer. Visions of disaster fill their minds. Without a second thought, they abandon their dates, and go check on Mary. Michael’s date asks, “Are they always like this?” Peter’s date responds, “Ever since another woman came into their lives.” Into their lives indeed. Mary now accompanies them to work and play. Wine bottles in the wine rack are replaced with formula bottles. What once was a disruption, is now a welcome addition. The swinging three had become four.
Suddenly, Mary’s mother, Sylvia, returns. She wants to take Mary with her to England. At last Peter, Michael, and Jack can get back to normal. But an unexpected sadness hits. Peter finds Mary’s little pink hard-hat, and holds it reminiscing. Michael, unable to focus on his art, watches a video of Mary. Jack holds Mary’s pillow to his face, and inhales, as if to bring her close. Jack says what all of them are feeling: “I miss Mary.” Mary had brought meaning and happiness into their lives. Life with Mary had become normal. And now life without her would feel empty. They make a mad dash to JFK Airport. But the plane had just pulled out. They were too late. Mary was gone.
Is this a sermon or a movie review? Isn’t this scripture about the three wise men a few weeks late? What do Peter, Michael, Jack and Mary have to do with the aftermath of the birth of Jesus? Stories make us feel truth in our bones. Three Men and a Baby makes us feel what happens when we take someone into our life. There is a movement to it. First, life is normal. Then the status quo is disrupted, and normal life is turned upside down. Then, unexpectedly, life is enhanced by the disruption; meaning and purpose are discovered. Life then becomes normal again, though at a much greater level of fulfillment than the previous normal.
It’s only been a week, but Christmas seems so far away. All the preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus is a faded memory. The crèche and decorations are put away. Life is back to normal. But if Jesus is born into our lives, whether years ago or just recently, if we have taken God in, would there not be signs of that movement in our lives? If we welcome in the Christ-child, he will have the same effect on us that Mary had on Peter, Michael and Jack. What might that mean for us?
It may mean that for some of us Jesus is disruptive. It’s hard to picture Jesus being disruptive, we think of him in more sublime ways. But his parables, and the way the crowds, disciples, and Pharisees would often be confused or offended by Jesus’ words and actions, we begin to see that he had a purpose: to disrupt normal life in order to reveal what it meant to live in the kingdom of God’s love, which is the heart of life. He disrupted their lives to show them what they were missing. Would we expect anything less from him now? We just may find ourselves holding the Christ-child at arm’s length, because we don’t know what to do with him. His teachings, the way he lived, his love and acceptance, asks us to let go of our defenses, face our fears, and love not only others, but ourselves, the world, even our enemies.
But usually we act more like Michael who tried to do anything to get Mary to stop disrupting his life. We promise God we’ll pray, read the Bible, go to church more often, just make life return to normal. But when Michael and Peter finally listened to Mary, they knew she just wanted to be held close. This is a metaphor for us. We must pull God close. Or rather, God is already close, closer than our breath, here to stay. God disrupts in order to help us grow.
Taking the Christ-child into our lives may also mean that for some of us God is being experienced in a life-enriching way. God feels close, palpable. We’re on the other side of disruption, we feel centered, purposeful, joyful. The relationship with God feels almost easy. When Peter, Michael and Jack realized that Mary brought them joy, they embrace her and include her in all aspects of life. If this is true for you, it is a time of gratitude and savoring.
But be wary not to take it for granted. We might become too comfortable with who we know God to be, too satisfied with our spirituality, and we fall into autopilot. This happens much more than we might expect. Studies show that many adults retain the same image of God they had as children. They have matured, but their faith has not. If our faith has settled into a pattern that is more rote than alive, then we are ripe for a little disruption from God.
It’s a helpful metaphor to see that our faith moves from infancy, to elementary age, to adolescence, young adulthood, mid-life crisis, maturity, to wisdom. And as we move through these transitions and experience unexpected changes and disruptions and arrive at new levels of meaning, so we ought to expect the same kind of things as our taking in of the Christ-child continues to unfold and mature in us.
Throughout this movie review – I mean, sermon – we’ve looked at what it means to take Christ in. But that needs to be qualified. Yes, Peter, Michael and Jack took Mary in. But in reality, it was Mary who did the taking in. If you remember the movie you know what I mean. Mary was the cutest little baby. Her facial expressions and every coo had every person in the theatre oohing and aahing. She reeled everyone in hook, line, and sinker. It may seem like we are the ones who take Christ in to our lives, and there’s truth to that. But here is the deeper truth. It is God who takes us in by placing an irresistible child on our doorsteps. That is the good news of the gospel.
Peter, Michael and Jack return home from the airport. And they find another surprise on their doorstep. Mary and Sylvia. Sylvia just couldn’t take Mary away, but she also knew she couldn’t ever again leave Mary behind. What was she to do? The answer was obvious to Peter, Michael and Jack. Four would become Five. Another room would have to be added, and there would be new disruptions. But that was fine. Taking in, had made a world of difference.
Perhaps you were expecting a sermon on the three wise men. And it is. Taking Mary in was the wisest thing Peter, Michael and Jack had ever done. Is the story of Jesus’ birth appropriate only for Christmas? Or are we not wiser to see it as a story for today and every day? The divine, being born into our lives daily; taken in, disrupting our lives, yes, but even more so enhancing our lives.
E.E. Cummings wrote, “We can never be born enough. We are human beings for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery, the mystery of becoming.” The plot of the movie, this movement of disruption, to enhancement of life on a new level, is really the mystery of our spiritual becoming, and it happens over and over again in our lives – if we are open to God’s Spirit. We don’t begin again every January 1st. We begin again every day when you wake up, and there – on the front doorstep of your heart and mind and life – is a basket with a baby in it: The Christ. Amen.