Birth and Broad Places

It is interesting to think about the drastic transition from life in the womb to life in the world. In a matter of moments everything a baby knows changes forever. At one moment Adele lived in a narrow, cramped womb and the next moment her home was the broad, open earth. In the womb an infant is unable to fully stretch out their legs. Once born into the broad place  those legs can be used to run as long and far as desired. Upon entrance into this world the infant is bombarded with new experiences. They feel the sensation of breathing lungs, the touch of a loved one, the taste of milk, the warmth of sun on their face, the feel of the breeze, and the beauty of color. It is a new world for the child and it is so fun to watch them interact with things for the first time. I have so much to learn from children. The birthing process itself is filled with many lessons. Luther loved the birth analogy and utilized it in many pastoral settings. In 1519 he preached a sermon On Preparation for Death. In it he picked up the theme of the birthing process to help the believer to think deeply about his present pain and future hope. Here is an excerpt from that sermon.

“In preparing to die, we should turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us. Here we find the beginning of the narrow gate and of the straight path to life (Matt 7:17). All must venture forth on this path, for though the gate is quite narrow, the path is not long. Just as an infant is born with peril and pain from the small abode of it’s mother’s womb into this immense heaven and earth, that is, into this world, so man departs through this life through the narrow gate of death. And although the heaven and earth in which we dwell at present seem large and wide to us, they are nevertheless as narrow and small in comparison with the future heaven as the mother’s womb is in comparison with this our heaven. Therefore the death of the dear saints is called a new birth, and their feast days is known in Latin as natale, that is the day of their birth. However, the narrow passage of death makes us think of this life as expansive and the life beyond as confined. Therefore, we must believe this and learn a lesson from the physical birth of a child, as Christ declares, ‘When a woman is in travail she has sorrow; but when she has recovered, she no longer remembers the anguish, since a child is born by her into the world’ (Jn 16:21). So it is that in dying we must bear this anguish and know the large mansion and joy will follow.”

The concept of the journey from cramped places to broad places through a narrow and painful path is helpful. It captures well our transition from life in the present to life in the future through the painful experience of death. But is also useful to think about new birth/ regeneration. In the new birth God delivers out of the cramped womb of sin and death and into the world of freedom and life. Being born anew includes the death of the old. We must be crucified with Christ that we might live with him. Death is the narrow pathway to the new birth as it is the pathway to life in his presence. Behind these truths stands the heart of the Triune God. He desires that we be rescued from narrow and cramped places and know the freedom of broad and open places. And he works with power and makes it happen. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Freedom is the intention of the saving work of God. We are destined for broad places if we are resting in the gospel.

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