It has been a long time since my understanding of Jesus Christ has taken on a whole new depth at Christmas time. Whilst Christmas has always been for me far more about Jesus than presents and turkey, I think nevertheless like many others, I still skid into the big day on the back end of Christmas shopping and wrapping and it is only on Christmas eve, or maybe at a carol service, that the enormity of the celebration truly hits me. When it does though it it catches the back of my throat with a flood of emotion and brings me to my knees in adoration and shame at not having kept my eyes on Him throughout Advent.
This year though has been a new and totally different experience, when God, in His all-knowing majesty, aware of my yearly short comings, has revealed Himself to me anew, in a fresh and humbling way, as a little baby boy looking to His mother to nurse Him.
A few weeks ago out pastor was telling us how Jesus showed His all encompassing humility and grace for us by coming to this earth as a little baby boy. As the great and most powerful God of all time and eternity we might, upon reflection, have expected Him to come in a great burning chariot of gold and fire to live, not amongst us, but above us in a glistening and shining palace of marble and diamonds where we would all instantly fall upon bended knee, prostrate before Him. But this great and most powerful God of all time did not want to exalt Himself on high in that manner and force us all into worship. He wanted to come into our world as one of us, to walk the walk we drag ourselves along, to live the life we so often just manage to trudge through and to feel everything we feel from greatest joy to deepest darkness.
I feel ashamed to say I have never spent a huge amount of time thinking of Jesus as that tiny little baby. I think of Him as my father, my friend, my protector and my God. I relish the fact that I know a God who is willing to be this friend of mine as well as my Lord and King, yet what I am relishing is a 33 year old man who baptised His followers in the river, who turned water into wine and who pleads to God on my behalf every day. And when I think of His sacrifice, I think of Him as a fully grown man going to the cross to die. Yet I never think of the almighty sacrifice He made by just coming to the earth for me in the first place, let alone coming as a babe in swaddling clothes to sleep in an animal trough.
As my pastor painted this picture of how helpless and vulnerable Jesus made Himself for us, I started to think about my own two children when they were first born. Both just over 5lbs, they were tiny and so in need. In need of warmth and food, in a need of a mother and a fathers love, unable to provide for themselves in anyway. So small were they that they were completely unable to control their body temperature and both had, thankfully not very serious, health concerns. Their little lives were entirely in our hands (and of course Gods). This moment led me to thinking on Jesus as that little babe who would have been looking for His mothers milk. Never before had I thought of Jesus being breastfed, dependent on Mary for that nourishment and care. So not only did He humble Himself as coming as flesh and blood, born into a broken world that would ultimately reject Him, but He made himself totally and utterly dependent on another human being. He was willing to become totally vulnerable. To come into the world totally unable to fend for Himself in order that He could come into a relationship with us and walk this chaotic life by our sides, not a step ahead, not a step behind, but alongside.
This thought and image of Jesus the baby comes back to me again and again, day after day filling my thoughts with new awe and wonderment at His kindness. But my mind doesn’t stop at that image but wonders on further. What about Him as a young boy? Falling and grazing His knee as he played in the street with his friends or going hungry on days when there wasn’t enough to eat. And what of friendships? We saw Him struggle with His friends the disciples time and time again as they misunderstood Him and His meaning (and isn’t one of the things we need from our friends understanding and unconditional love rather than constant questioning?) yet how did He fair with the children He played with? Did He experience the bullying that we all have at one time or another been subjected to? Obviously I don’t know if these possibilities are true and I am no learned theologian to be hedging a bet, but something has pulled at my heart strings on the days when my kids have come home from school wounded by words that have been said, and I have felt convinced that Jesus, who knows every pain and every suffering, may also have experienced those playground pains. It makes my heart swell with love and adoration for Him that He not only came to die for me and my sins but that He came in order that He can understand and relate to every pain and hurt my two children have ever felt.
He came for every single one of us and for every single part of our story. He relates to the new baby that is born into squalor and mess in poverty; He relates to the child who gets stung by sharp words yelled across a playground; He understands how we feel when we are misunderstood and not listened to, when we are frustrated and angry; He understands what it feels like to be abandoned and rejected, quite simply because from the moment He was born He experienced it all.
What is so significant about the stable part of His story as His birth place is that it was messy and dirty. It was as unglamorous as it gets; a far cry from a marble and diamond shining and glimmering palace. It was probably a cold cave where animals took shelter. The animals would not have been the clean fluffy white sheep and handsomely groomed cattle that we see in the nativity scene pictures on Christmas cards. They would probably have been dirty and stinky and it would have been dark and in my opinion probably pretty scary. But this was not a mistake or a chance coincidence. It was in fact a carefully crafted divine plan coming to fruition in order that we might know that Jesus came to earth, not for glamour and glory, but to roll up His sleeves and get stuck into our mess and our disarray.
He came for you.
He came for me.
Not in the hope that we will be perfect but in spite of the fact that we aren’t.
Anytime you feel confused, betrayed, in pain, desperate or angry, that is the moment when you can actually turn your eyes to Him in hope, rather than away from Him in shame. And when you turn your eyes to Him it doesn’t just need to be to the man who defied the cross, but to the God who chose to become a vulnerable baby boy.
So this Christmas take a moment to think of that little baby in swaddling clothes, put into an animal feed box for a bed (not a sterilised cot like that one in this picture) and know that if you were the only person on this earth, He would still have come and He would still have died, just for you.