“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4-7
How man times do we read these words during the Christmas season? These few verses are the inspiration for the nativity sets around our homes and churches. It is the inspiration for the Christmas pageants that children are currently practicing for. But even with reminders all around me during this season, I do not reflect enough on the reality that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, Jesus, and laid him in a manger.
It is easier for me to picture Jesus, fully God and fully human, as the Christ who died on the cross. I picture Christ the God-man as the one who turned over the tables in the temple and drove out the money changers, or as the great teacher who gathered crowds by the thousands, or as the healer of sick. I picture Christ the God-man as the one who was powerful enough to stop the crucifixion, yet willingly chose to submit himself to God the Father and bear the weight of his wrath for our sins.
But then there are these precious verses in Luke chapter two that describe Jesus, fully God and fully human, as a newborn child. Helpless. Weak. Completely dependent on his mother and father for warmth, food, touch, shelter, and soothing. It feels God-like to think about Christ’s ministry on this earth. But Christ as an infant? Christ nursing, crying, needing to be swaddled, it just feels so…human. As much as I like to talk about Christ being fully God and fully man, I probably spend much more time thinking about Christ being fully God. It is when I reflect on God the Son being laid in a manger, fully dependent on human, sinful parents, that I realize how uncomfortable I can feel with Christ’s humanity.
But this is a season to think and praise God for his willingness to become human. One moment, Christ was sharing perfect, eternal, complete union with God the Father and the next he was growing within the womb of Mary. It is miraculous, mind-boggling, truly foolishness if we think about it through the world’s wisdom. But this wonderful miracle is exactly what allows us to now relate to Christ as brother. Christ has an earthly father that cared for him, held him, and loved him. When Christ talks about his heavenly Father, he is speaking fully understanding and knowing what it was like to have an earthly father. When Christ calls believers “brothers and sisters” he is speaking from a full understanding of what it was like to have an earthly family. In order for us to have been adopted by God spiritually, God had to become fully human…and so, two thousand years ago, God was born, naked, weak, needy, crying and completely vulnerable. And then, Thirty-three years later, he died a bloody, shameful death in the same condition.
And the glorious reality that we have such a gracious God as this, who would make himself human, should make us sing:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14