When our kids were younger, we always wanted to help them remember that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus. Everything else—the gifts, the lights, the dinner, the travel, the parties—was a celebration of that. To assist in this effort, we would set up the nativity scene with everything in it—except baby Jesus.
Every morning leading up to Christmas Day, I would take them past the manger and ask, “Is baby Jesus here yet?” It created a sense of anticipation, the kind for which Advent is well known. Finally, when the big day arrived, and we all saw that Jesus was now in his manger, we could celebrate, exchange gifts, and make merry.
I suppose I made it a bit worse by insisting we read Matthew 2:1-12 around the tree before the first gift was opened. It takes less than two minutes to do so, but eager kids can say with their faces, “Dad, we already know the story,” even if, out of respect, they don’t use words. Message received. But we always read the story, anyway. We still do, astonished that it’s Jesus’ birthday, but we get the gifts. The very practice itself gives us a whiff of the gospel.
Last year gave us a dilemma. The family rule says, “No gifts until baby Jesus is in the manger, and no baby Jesus is in the manger until Christmas Day.” But family and work schedules required that we hold our gift exchange on Christmas Eve. What to do? We actually had a serious theological discussion about it!
I proposed that we consider Jesus a preemie. That is, he would come earlier than expected that year, allowing us to celebrate a day in advance. Would that be bending the rule too much? Some thought it did, so I offered an alternative rationale. In Jewish reckoning, the new day begins at sundown, so we could legitimately hasten the arrival of Christmas by about six hours—just what we needed to make the holiday schedule work.
Problem solved. And the family rule stayed intact.
Silliness aside, those ponderings got me to thinking about the non-romantic aspects of Jesus’ birth—the parts that don’t make it onto the gold-foil Christmas cards with glittered edges. Things like diapers. Placenta. Giving birth 90 miles away from your home. Strange visitors and bug-eyed prophets showing up out of the blue to gawk at your baby. Political machinations behind the scenes putting your child at risk. The first Christmas was no picnic.
Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), but Mary probably didn’t have a specific due date in mind. Did Jesus—from her perspective—come earlier or later than expected? Was he, in fact, born prematurely? When he was born, how much did he weigh? Did he have hair? Was he jaundiced? What would his Apgar score be had he been born in our day? We don’t know for sure, but the questions themselves highlight the earthiness of it all. His conception was miraculous, but his birth took place in a most ordinary way.
As such, Jesus stands in solidarity with babies of all kinds, including preemies. Including those who, like me, were unwanted at birth and placed in an orphanage from day one. Whenever I see a TV commercial for a children’s hospital, I think about emptying my bank account and sending them everything I have. “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.” He used to be one.
As noted in a previous post, the Incarnation puts me on overload. I can never fully get my mind around it. Thankfully, I don’t have to. I can just enjoy what God has done for us, and try to love him in return. Moreover, I can live with less-than-perfect devotionals that have already been written for this year. Be looking for them toward the end of next week if you like.
- “Divine Hospitality: God at Home in a Fractured World”
- “Impossible Journey: Our Down-to-Earth God”
- “God Has Landed: Harry Potter and Jesus”
Until then, be a child at heart. For of such is the kingdom of God (Luke 18:16).
Image Credits: renestance.com; pexels.com.