Have you ever felt sorry for the baby Jesus?
Parents in distress…
virgin birth and all that scandal…
on the road to be counted in the census…
perilous and difficult especially for a mother great with child….
Herod on the hunt for Bethlehem boy babies…
a birthing in a stall…nothing but a manger in which to place the newborn…
….poor Joseph, poor Mary, a baby born amongst mooing and bleating and who knows what else? Baby boy wrapped in rags and strangers showing up unannounced…I mean…do we really need guests at a time like this? Miles from home already and when the baby is barely able to travel, God says, “go to Egypt”.
Is this a bad dream?
This is the composite picture painted by the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke. We tend to read it and because we know that in the end or at least somewhere in the middle, Jesus gets to ascend back into heaven to be with his Father, we brisk our way through this narrative. In fact, we don’t dwell very long at all on this narrative unless it’s Christmas. We look at the nativity but it’s rather trivial. The story can take on the feel of a folktale or a nursery rhyme.
Or we view it like we have viewed “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Viewed so many times that we escape the heartbreak of the story because at the end, we know that George Bailey realizes his life hasn’t been a waste after all. Tough as it is, we know that baby Jesus is the risen King in the later going.
And we somehow conclude that the stuff that comes later is more frothy with real theology and heady doctrinal importance. Let’s face it, this gets played too often as little more than a child’s Christmas pageant.
But not so fast.
The story of the baby Jesus is meant to touch the heart. John’s gospel sounds like an understatement: “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (John 1:14) The coming of Jesus is described in verse 9 as being “true light” that “gives light to every man”. Jesus turns the lights up so we can see things as they really are.
Before there was ever a parable, a beatitude, a water-to-wine incident, there was a baby….born amidst hard, stressful times. Born to parents who were, for the most part, street people, exiles, strangers, sojourners, resident aliens.
In our hurry to see a man walk on water, let’s not walk right past a pivotal moment in God-History.
So, go back and read the birth narratives again.
Are you beginning to feel sorry for them? Well don’t. Don’t feel sorry. Feel honored. Feel humbled. Feel worshipful. Jesus came that we might see God. He brings light to a dark world. On a starlit night God came into view. He chose to meet us in all the tragedy of the human condition. Let’s not be hasty to rush from the manger scene in a charge for the resurrection narrative. Let’s push the pause button….not the fast-forward.
Just as we must resist fast forwarding George Bailey to the “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” scene, we must resist moving too quickly past what the angels sang about in gospel’s opening act.
God did something magnificent that holy night, that silent night when angels were heard on high. This is theology cast in a grand scene. It’s not trite, it’s not folksy. It’s God being about His business in a most extraordinary way. When scripture says God became flesh, let’s get hold of the meaning here. John’s gospel begins with the conceptual idea of Jesus as Word…logos... The Greeks used this word to represent the full meaning and essence of reality.
A new reality began the night this Bethlehem boy drew his first earthly breath. He most likely came screaming his way into humanity as most of us did as we emerged from mother’s womb. Something real is happening here…something very, very real. It’s natural and it’s supernatural. And it happened to you and it happened to me. It didn’t just happen for us….it happened to us.
Everything in our redemptive story took a remarkable plot twist in that far away place and that far away time.
Kneel at the cross, an old hymn goes….Christ will meet you there. True. Very true. Nothing brings us to our knees like the cross. But the manger. When the Word became flesh….. This too, is a place to kneel.
Fall on your knees….hear the angels voices…O night divine…O night that Christ was born….