The immortal Almighty God is born today a child in a manger. His mother, so young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, is overcome with joy, transfixed by the baby nestled in the folds of her garment. She cannot take her eyes off him, watching his chest rise and fall in the reassuring rhythm of sleep. She is in love with this tiny creature that she welcomed into the world but moments ago. She regards his face, and examines his fingers, so delicate and perfect. He is so small, so vulnerable, so helpless. And she slowly grasps the implications, that this child, her son, would depend on her entirely for survival. And deep in her heart, she pledges to protect him from every danger the world might send his way. The quiet intimacy of that moment makes a young mother plead with God for mercy and courage in the face of her fears. And Mary would plead with God often. As the years unfold, she would teach him to walk, to talk, and to pray. She would introduce him to the faith of her ancestors, read to him from the scriptures, and take him to the temple. And she would often recall those first moments alone with him, marveling at the child he once was, so tiny, so vulnerable, so helpless, and that all the whole world would know him to be her Son, and she to be his mother.
Some nine months before, Mary recalled a visit by an angel announcing an odd but amazing message. The angel called her “Full of Grace” and said she enjoyed God’s favor. She would bear a child, and name him Jesus. He would be great, and be called Son of the Most High. He would inherit the throne of the great King David, and rule over the house of Jacob, and his Kingdom would never end. It made little sense to her, especially the part about her having a baby. She knew where babies came from. But she was certain someone else would have to be involved. It seemed the angel had skipped that part. “Excuse me,” she interrupted. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but …” “Oh, that. … The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Mary wasn’t sure she knew what that all meant, but it sounded almost reassuring. Besides, the angel also revealed that her cousin Elizabeth was with child. And Mary knew she had to go see this miracle herself, if only to prove that her vision was real.
And as the days went by, her hopes would be assured. Her growing midsection was proof something wonderful was happening. But how could this child be the Son of God, and heir to King David’s throne, when everything else seemed so ordinary—the morning sickness, the crankiness, the bigger appetite, the swollen ankles. How was this child extraordinary and nothing special at the same time? How was this child God’s Son—divine and perfect, as well as human and flawed—everything that God is not?
The bible tells us that God appeared in human form on a few occasions. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. Abraham spoke with God and shared a meal with him and two angels. Jacob wrestled with God and dislocated his hip. Moses received God’s law on two stone tablets written by God’s own hand. Gideon and Samson’s parents spoke with God. And God was there in the fiery furnace along with the three young men from the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. But bible stories only mentioned God appearing out of nowhere, and disappearing back into nowhere. If God would truly know our human reality, God would have to embrace the totality of our flawed and sinful nature. But what exactly would God gain by doing that?
Much of what God wanted to accomplish by sending his Son to be born of Mary we would never know in advance. We would only discover God’s design in hindsight, since God is not inclined to give us advance notice. Only later would we learn that God alone had to settle the debt of our first parents’ disobedience by taking on our created nature and embracing the just sentence for their offense. God needed a physical body like ours to endure the punishment our sins deserved. And so the cross on Calvary cast a not-so-subtle shadow over the manger where the child Jesus lay. It is precisely the reason why we celebrate his birth. In his mercy and compassion, God’s plan to bring us healing and reconciliation is officially under way this day.
I am both amused and impressed that God chose to do things the way he did, by taking our nature upon himself—human, flawed, clumsy, and outright incompatible with his own divine and perfect nature. We and God are as mismatched as politics and the polar vortex, as birthday cake and IEDs, as Middle East peace and climate change. It just makes you go, “What now?” Precisely. Imagine all that we have to endure as infants, toddlers, and teenagers, all the indignities of incoherent speech, potty-training, and puberty. Did God not see that coming? Being human comes with its own inherent hazards, which none of us can escape. Yet God truly desired to know our experience, so he embraced all of it. But I can understand why Jesus did not live to see old age. All the embarrassing and undignified things that babies must go through can be made to look all innocent and cute. But let’s face it. The same cannot be said of the things grown adults must endure. Besides, if Jesus wanted to take on the full experience, anything less than total surrender would just appear insincere. It was all the way or not at all.
So God took upon himself a body of flesh and blood to express his great favor toward those he fashioned in his own image and likeness. As one like us, God sets an example and urges us to do good and resist evil. Then God endows our senses and our reason with the light of faith to attain a deeper knowledge and understanding of truth. And finally, God chose us to labor alongside him in building his kingdom. Now God Almighty could have achieved his purpose any number of ways without loss of dignity or stature or self-respect. Still he preferred to learn firsthand what we come to know from experience. God shared our humble and lowly nature to tell us that nothing about us is beneath him. God became a child, vulnerable and helpless, to tell us that young people are dear to his heart, as are the weak, the vulnerable, the helpless, the powerless, the sorrowful, the sinful, the grieving, the poor, the lost. Through Jesus’ embrace of our nature, he embraced also the depths of human inadequacy, weakness, and struggle. We sometimes fear that a gift may not be good enough, not expressive of our love enough, not truly worthy of its recipient. But in sharing our human nature, God embraced a gift of the best and the worst about us, to reconcile us to himself, to raise us to glory, to create us anew. God never set out to gain anything selfishly for himself. But on this day the Child of Bethlehem gave us the gift of God’s own nature, God’s blessings beyond measure, and God’s very own life. With all that, what more do we really need?
Rolo B Castillo © 2016