Sweet little eight pound, six ounce, newborn baby Jesus.
And that little baby in the manger is the reason for Christmas, right?
Well, here’s the thing. I love Christmas. I love baby Jesus. But I’ve rediscovered something recently, through conversations with friends and singing old songs and revisiting well-worn stories. Sure, Christmas isn’t just about shopping and toys and eggnog. But Christmas also isn’t just about a baby in a manger, arms outstretched like he’s in a classical painting. It isn’t just about a mom looking reverently at her baby, looking positively divine, mere moments after giving birth.
What if even our Nativity scenes and songs about that baby even missed the point of Christmas? What if we’ve managed to turn sweet little baby Jesus into an eight pound idol?
I think I’ve relearned something that just might save my Christmas this year…
Christmas Is Not Jesus’ Birthday
I have to give credit to my good friend Tim, who was discussing with me his efforts to teach his toddler about Christmas and baby Jesus. As we talked about his parenting challenges, it occurred to us that no one celebrates their birthday with everyone bringing out their old baby pictures. Everyone looks back on the past year and ahead to the next year, but we don’t refer to adults as infants.
But Jesus, he’s different. Somehow, we turn the Son of God into a little baby every year.
I mentioned last week that some of my neighbors have yard signs that say “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” which not only sounds horrendously corny to me, and not only ignores the fact that December 25 is not the date of Jesus’ birth, but completely misses a very important fact about Jesus:
That He is eternal. He doesn’t have a “birthday.”
The universe was made by Jesus. He was there in the beginning. When we celebrate Christmas, we are not celebrating a birthday. We are celebrating the incomprehensible idea that one day, God became Immanuel. God with us.
We are celebrating the incarnation. And it would not matter if God became incarnate as a baby or an adult, man or woman, black or white, or if he dropped from the sky or had three eyes.
Weak, Helpless, Screaming Baby Jesus
Now, don’t get me wrong. Nativity scenes are great, because they remind us of a specific event that happened.
But I think what I’m tempted to see when I look at blue-eyed, blonde-haired, newborn baby Jesus is a god who is still a baby, a perpetual baby god.
And what does a perpetual baby god communicate?
A god who is at our mercy.
A god who needs us.
A god who can be killed, merely by neglect.
God is none of those things. The Messiah did not stay a baby. The redemption of humanity could not be achieved by a baby. If you are like me and you bristle at the implication that we are supposed to worship a baby, don’t worry. We aren’t supposed to. God is not a baby.
But Secretly, I Like Baby Jesus
But you know what the worst part is?
I think despite my outward distaste for the baby worship, deep down…
I want a baby god.
I want a god who needs me. I want a god who is helpless. I want a god who has to go where I go, who is at the mercy of my whims and desires and under my control.
Maybe that’s the kind of god we all want, really. Be honest, you know what I’m talking about, right?
And, of course, wanting a god like that really misses the whole point of why God came as a baby in the first place.
The Strength of Becoming Weak
I’ve been reading a lot from Thomas Merton about Christian pacifism. The easy assumption to make about pacifists is that they are cowards, or they avoid conflict, or they do not believe that evil should be opposed. In fact, pacifists confront evil with their decision to not fight. The civil rights movement is a contemporary example of pacifism that confronts evil. The pacifist who faces abuse needs as much, if not more strength than the man or woman who fights.
And far from being weak or helpless, God uses that baby in the manger to communicate His absolute strength. God is so strong that He can temporarily lay down his strength. He is so powerful that He can temporarily restrain Himself. He is so infinite that He can temporarily limit himself and entrust himself to the care of two unwed teenage parents.
I don’t know about you, but this completely rescues Christmas for me. It’s a relief from a holiday I was beginning to not know how to celebrate. So tell me what you think. Are you tempted to still want Jesus to be a baby every year?