We are two weeks away from arguably the most celebrated holiday in our nation: Christmas. Many will dress the family in their finest and usher them off to church for their once-a-year visit to hear the story of the baby Jesus. Most have already set up Christmas trees, bought an abundance of presents, and decorated their houses and lawns for the holiday, and nestled in there was can sometimes find the nativity scene. We get extra days off work, we visit family, we eat, and the devout among us say “happy birthday Jesus” or read the Christmas account out of the Bible.
We like Jesus as a baby.
Babies are helpless. Babies are cute and cuddly. Babies need us to take care of them, to nurture them and to love them. Babies are lovable. The the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” has perpetuated the myth that Jesus never cried (although we know He cried as an adult – John 6.35, and He wasn’t born speaking, so how else would He have let Mary know He was hungry?). He was the perfect little baby.
The story of Mary and Joseph coming into Bethlehem on a donkey at nine months pregnant, the hotels all being full, and them finding shelter in a barn is so tragic – but yet normal to our ears. We pity Jesus for having been born and laid in a feeding trough. The story is quaint and humble, and it makes us feel good, while reminding us to help take care of the less fortunate.
The problem is that Jesus grew up. He grew up and began to teach lessons that are just a bit too extreme for our ears. Yes, we like the command to love, but we want to pick and choose who we get to love. We do not want to hear the command to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Matt 5.44). Yes, we want to hear how to be righteous and right with God, but we do not want to hear that we have to sell everything that we have, give it to the poor, and follow Him (Matt 19.21). We like the promises that He will provide all of our needs and give us peace, but we do not want to follow Him to martyrdom (Matt 24.9).
Jesus the man commands us to live in ways that we are incapable of doing on on our own. In order to follow Jesus, we need the empowering of the Holy Spirit and we have to die to ourselves. It is uncomfortable and difficult.
Jesus the baby is cute and cuddly, and we can unintentionally condescend Him. The baby Jesus demands nothing from us, just receives our affection and pity, and teaches us to care for the less fortunate around us. The angels announced with His birth “peace among men with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2.14). And while Jesus did come to bring peace, but He also came to bring a sword. Families will be divided because of Him and some will kill those who follow Him (Matt 10.34). The peace is spiritual and between God and those whom He has forgiven, not for the entire world. That will only be realized on the New Earth, where sin and suffering cease. Until then we must allow the Holy Spirit to live through us to suffer persecution well and follow Christ’s example (Gal 2.20).
So these next two weeks as we approach Christmas day, as we see the nativities along the streets and in our homes, as we go to church to celebrate and as we meditate and pray about the reality of God coming to Earth in the form of a man, let us not leave Jesus in the manger. We should, indeed, marvel at the humility it would take for the almighty God to strip Himself of many of His divine attributes, and take on the form of a man, in his most helpless state. Jesus submitted himself to human form, to a mother and a father, was raised as a child, all while still maintaining His deity. We should praise Him for that, and seek to humble ourselves to one another and to Him in response.
But let us also reflect on the reason that He came: to seek and to save that which was lost, to bring life to dead, to die for our sins, and to teach us how to live in light of eternity. Jesus is no longer a poor, cute baby in a feeding trough in a barn. He is the king of ages, seated on the throne in Heaven, ready to judge the living and the dead and to welcome believers into His presence for eternity.