Every year when I pull out Christmas decorations, I find one box containing multiple nativities that I've collected over the years. Confession: I'm not so much into the fancy-filigreed, gold-glittered versions that make Jesus look like the real king that he is. Somehow, I find their "other-than-ness" off-putting. I prefer the homespun. My favorite is a cotton ball baby Jesus atop a mound of decorative straw, pipe cleaner halo raised above his head by a stretched-out paper clip.
What comes to mind with the phrase, "Baby Jesus"? Sweetness? Innocence? Christmas? How about this: God in all His glory, squished into a baby? It's startling to consider the idea of God, Himself, being a vulnerable, crying, hungry, helpless baby, isn't it?
Yet that's exactly how Scripture describes Jesus. Luke 2:6-7 tells us that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger (a cattle trough). In New Testament times, babies were swaddled for the first few days of their lives -- and not fed -- as it was believed they needed to rest. Surely Baby Jesus was a hungry baby!
Luke 2:21 reports that eight days later, as was the custom, Baby Jesus was circumcised. Having been present for my first grandson's procedure, I can attest, it seemed painful. Surely Baby Jesus was a crying baby!
As Jesus was being presented in the Temple, the Prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna spoke worship, honor and warning over Baby Jesus, predicting he would be the Messiah who would bring redemption to Israel (Luke 2:25-28). Despite his humanness, surely Baby Jesus was a worshipped baby!
Continuing his gospel account of the ministry of Jesus as a man, Luke records:
"People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it,'" (Luke 18:15-17)
Parents and nurses wanted Jesus to lay his hands on their little ones. Beyond the customary blessing, did they sense that Jesus might provide the hope of health in a world of high infant mortality? Notice Luke specifies that people were bringing babies to Jesus. The word specifically means infants. Young, vulnerable and dependent ones. In receiving babies to himself and pronouncing their inclusion in his kingdom, Jesus actually specifies neediness as a condition for salvation.
Surely Jesus is One who understands the depth of human neediness. In fact, it is Jesus, Baby Jesus, who endured the helpless vulnerability of a baby in order to provide a way for us to be cared for and rescued from our greatest need. Our need for salvation.
Maybe this reality is what attracts me to the cotton ball Baby Jesus every Christmas. In the everyday items that assemble his presence in my holiday, I find the holiest of hope.