Rudolph and The “Perfect” Child


After we’ve opened our Christmas gifts and we’re stuffed with goodies, our family likes to watch a favorite holiday movie. Some of you may have grown up with the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We know how the still popular story ends: Rudolph and his shiny red nose save Christmas.

Of course, this is not how the story begins. Rudolph’s abnormal red nose embarrasses his parents. He’s different from the other reindeer. Mr. Donner tries to fix his son’s defective red nose with a fake black one. Rudolph is a “misfit among misfits,” but he makes it to the happy ending as a hero. What about the stories of real children who are perceived as misfits?

Today’s parents don’t need to try to cover up their children’s imperfections; they can avoid them. Prenatal tests can reveal genetic anomalies like Down syndrome or a higher risk for Alzheimer’s or breast cancer. There can be good reasons to use prenatal testing. Early confirmation can help parents to prepare for a child with special needs. In some cases, prenatal tests can lead to early intervention to prevent or treat medical conditions. 

But, because most genetic abnormalities cannot be cured, more and more parents “avoid” the imperfections by aborting their child.

The widespread availability of these tests pressures parents to use them, in order to choose only the “right” kind of child. Even a strong woman may have a hard time saying “no.” The intended outcome? She’ll choose an abortion if the test is positive. In fact, nine out of ten unborn children with Down syndrome are aborted. Parents who refuse are called “irresponsible.” Sadly, they may not know that sometimes the test is wrong. As theologian Amy Laura Hall puts it, “our bodies have become the targets of quality control.”[1]

What does the pursuit of the perfect child—or at least a healthy baby—mean for our culture? To quote Professor Hall again, the embrace of prenatal genetic tests “may make for a society that is even less hospitable toward disability and difference than it is at present.”[2]

Children who are born “different” can end up rescuing their families. Our dear friends had a spoiled grandson and granddaughter who were miraculously transformed by their baby sister’s cerebral palsy. Though undesired and unasked for, Brianna’s disability broke up the hard ground in their hearts, allowing love to grow.

There is only one perfect Baby. He is Jesus, our heavenly Father’s perfect gift to imperfect humankind, the sinless gift for sinful people. Through Him we are offered forgiveness and invited to wholeness. Unlike Rudolph’s fictitious father, he loves and accepts us just as we are, red nose or black. And that’s the best holiday story of all.

[1] Amy Laura Hall, Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and the Spirit of Reproduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008) 399.

[2] Ibid, 377.


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