Every year when Christmas comes around, we get treated to a lot of reflections on the holy child. We try to imagine what God as a human being must have been like as an infant, and quite honestly a lot of nonsense makes its way into the common lore.
It first struck me when the choir I sang in during grad school performed a version of Silent Night containing a lyric I’d never heard before (and thank God I’ve never heard since):
…Lovely boy with golden hair…
Blond hair? Really? News flash: Jesus was Middle Eastern! I had to grit my teeth to get through that concert.
And then there’s this one:
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
Right. Because God in human form would never cry. Because He had telepathy and lightning bolts to communicate that he was hungry, tired, gassy or dirty. Riiiight.
We believe in a God who is fully divine and fully human. And I think very often we focus on the divine nature because the human one is inconvenient, or uncomfortable. Birth in a stable was probably pretty gross. Pretty smelly, and not just because of the animals. Baby Jesus had to nurse every two or three hours, just like our babies. And just like our babies, I’m pretty sure he had exploding diapers, too.
In order for Jesus to be fully human, a true bridge between Heaven and Earth, he had to have had the full range of human experience. To be fully human is to embrace the messiness of life on Earth–misunderstandings born of an imperfect mode of communication, entering into relationships without knowing what is going on in someone else’s head. It involves risk.
Sanitizing Jesus’ human experience serves to hold him at a distance. If we view him as superhuman rather than human, we can write off his holiness, his total commitment to discerning and carrying out God’s will, by saying, “Well, he was God after all. It’s different for me.” It makes him other. Separate. It absolves us of the responsibility to seek.
In Jesus, God embraced the messiness of life on Earth in order to show that holiness can be found despite (and within) the mess.
Our challenge is to do the same.