Without Ceasing to be God, God Became a Humble Baby

“Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith...” (CCC 463)

Unknown, “The Nativity of Jesus Christ”, Cyprus, 14th century
Unknown, “The Nativity of Jesus Christ”, Cyprus, 14th century (photo: Public Domain)

We are in the midst of the celebration of Christmas. God is with us.

We profess the reality of this mystery every Mass in the Creed. We set up mangers and sing carols about Christ’s birth and proclaim the words of the angels. Looking at the many nativity scenes we have around the house, I’m wondering if we’ve become enamored with a pastoral romantic version of this most sacred of events in human history. I’ve heard many a priest talk of the birth taking place in a cave, rather than a stable (which admittedly, is harder to convey in a model), and talk movingly about how a manger would have looked more like a trough where food is kept, rather than the straw bed that seems to cradle the Christ child. But the manger scenes we have, wherever I look, they have bright colors, they accentuate a lushness even in the table. These scenes do not scratch. Some even sparkle.

Even in song, we tend to make the infant Jesus into a baby who feels no cold or makes any cries. Every baby, even the quietest best baby, cries. It’s how they let us know — feed me, change me, pick me up, put me down, hold me, swaddle me, play with me, I don’t feel well and I need a burp, a bath, my tooth to come through, it’s too loud, too quiet, too crowded, too I don’t know what it is but I’m upset about it. Jesus, being fully man and fully God, felt all these things, and no doubt as a baby, kept Mary and Joseph up from time to time. When we say “who became man,” do we really understand what we mean? God fully became a creature, a baby like we once were, who cries, who poops, who hungers, who needs. He got skinned knees, he felt scratched by the straw, it smelled. He smelled. Do we really understand, we worship a God who willingly lived what we simply endure?

It’s not that I object to the songs or the scenes, it’s that if we’re to really step into the scene of Jesus’ birth, we need to recognize, Jesus lived in a world with splinters, straw, drafts and smells, with all of the fallen nature surrounding Him. Our God knew and knows our everyday frustrations and the ones which gnaw at our hearts. 

The Incarnation remains a great mystery because it is an act of pure selfless love, just like the Crucifixion, just like our continuing to exist. How does the Infinite Being who made all, who needs nothing, enter into our condition? The Incarnation should shock us, should stun us, should puzzle us. How could He love us that much? Who here would become something less by choice? C.S. Lewis talked about “The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a Woman's body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.” We are the slugs. We are the crabs. God loved us that much. I don’t know about you, but even had I the power, there isn’t a slug or a crab I’d love enough to become one for, let alone, die for. 

The Incarnation is ultimately God’s great answer of love to our disobedience, to our sin. God acts, in the world, breaking into it like light, like warmth, flooding it with a love beyond anything we can fathom. The sublime gift of Jesus coming to us is can only elicit one response; wonder. Alleluia! Alleluia!