A child is just a small human that typically attracts attention and curiosity, even fascination, primarily from other small humans like it, but eventually from everyone big and small. The smaller and younger the child, easily the greater the attention, curiosity, and fascination they elicit. But grown-ups do also get caught up in a totally healthy and reasonable curiosity and fascination for children. I can only speak from experience, but I have noticed this dynamic in every culture and economic setting. Most young children are encouraged from an early age to interact with other children. But when boys get older and their attention drifts toward rambunctiousness and general mischief, they are allowed less access to younger children, and probably for good reason. Not so for girls. Most little girls are inclined to be nurturing. It’s no surprise most girls will play with baby dolls and stuffed animals, so they can get some early practice caring for a person or a menagerie of creatures more helpless and in greater need than themselves.
Then we grow into adulthood. Women retain this nurturing quality that is likely a biological response since mothers do share a natural intimacy with their children that no man will ever truly grasp. But even those who are not mothers, do possess a certain predisposition toward all creatures cuddly and cute that elicits nurturing behaviors. And that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, if the care of children was by default a man’s responsibility, I’m sure that would present some very challenging situations, foremost among them on account of biology. But no situation is completely insurmountable since instinctive behaviors likely result from nature responding and adapting to very specific needs, and we can also intentionally learn to be more nurturing. The male seahorse for instance carries its young from conception to birth. I am aware men don’t have that kind of equipment, but they will take their turn with 2 o’clock feedings and diaper changing which wasn’t always so in generations past. So I think this is progress.
The natural and unrehearsed behaviors we exhibit in the presence of a helpless, tiny human tell us something much deeper is going on inside, whether it be curiosity or fascination, awe or joy, and whether we spring quickly into caring and nurturing mode or recoil in pure terror in the presence of such a delicate and fragile creature. And I have wondered why this is. Typically, and I do this too, we try to make eye contact and elicit a response, a smile, a squeal, a high-five, a handshake, a hug. Expectations on all sides tend to escalate accordingly depending on the relationship one has with the child or the child’s parents. But a child’s response cannot be anything but genuine. We can tell from their facial expression and body language whether such interaction is welcome or not. But why do we feel the urge to engage? Is it because they are unthreatening and smaller in size? Is it because they look innocent and extremely huggable? Is it because we see in those big unblinking eyes all of humanity’s hopes and dreams staring back at us? And have you noticed how characters with big unblinking eyes just pull us in? Any and all cartoon characters from Japan? The Powderpuff girls? The muppet babies? Baby Yoda? Never mind those disproportionate features, huge pointy ears, and greenish skin tone?
Perhaps when we contemplate the holy Child of Bethlehem we betray a deeper yearning for some personal interaction with the great and glorious God who that image represents, and some meaningful acknowledgement of our very real struggles and hurts and brokenness. Although this child looks just like any other tiny, innocent, and helpless child, he is so much more. He is the hope of all the ages, the fulfillment of all the ancient prophecies, the bearer of God’s peace and executor of God’s justice, and the redemption of all humanity, wandering, lost, selfish, and sinful humanity. Or perhaps we are content to look upon a child in a manger because it is a temporary but effective distraction from all our weariness and unfulfilled longings, knowing we will merely return tomorrow to the sordid business of selfishness, arrogance, lust, and greed that is the life we embrace and the world we have created. No. I suggest there is something more, something truly redeeming in this annual observance, religious or otherwise. And it isn’t just our fascination for big unblinking baby eyes.
Looking back at us are the very eyes of our eternal and almighty God, who just happens to be a helpless, innocent child lying in a manger. What God can now see with a child’s eyes is not new in any way, shape, or form. God created us. God has seen it all before. But from the perspective of a child, God can now embrace the entirety of our human experience, our weakness, our limitations, our resilience, our potential. The eternal and almighty God clothed in the same human flesh as us is now experiencing something new. And that is ultimately the game changer. God can always claim to understand the isolation and alienation brought into the world by the disobedience of our first parents, and by all our own personal selfishness and sin. But all God knew previously comes from his perspective as God. Now that God shares our nature, God also shares our isolation and alienation, as real and immediate as we know it. So when we look into those eyes, those big unblinking baby eyes, we can rest assured God genuinely knows and understands our very real struggles and hurts and brokenness.
And if we stop to think about it, even more jarring is that other image of this same child now in the prime of his life, sometimes set far back in the background in our minds and hearts, but sometimes most vividly portrayed in 3D and living color in many churches. In that other image we can know and understand what our eternal and almighty God wants to tell us in the midst of our very real struggles and hurts and brokenness, that our God will never turn away, that our God will always choose to embrace it all, that our God offers us so much more than we can ask or imagine.
The very name he was given by the angel before he was born is a reminder of God’s total embrace of our human condition with all its flaws and warts and blemishes. “His name shall be Emmanuel … which means ‘God is with us.’” And might I suggest more? It is ‘God in the same flesh as ours.’ It is ‘God right there among us in the midst of our very real struggles and hurts and brokenness.’ It is ‘God willingly embracing our self-inflicted isolation and alienation that he might restore us to friendship and peace.’ So this Christmas, look into the big unblinking baby eyes of the holy Child in the manger, and in those eyes, God eternal and almighty looking back. God sees us as we are, and all our sisters and brothers we at times choose to ignore, with all their struggles and hurts and brokenness, as real as ours. We already share their nature. What will it take for us to embrace their isolation and alienation, and offer them all God offers us?
Rolo B Castillo © 2019