Having a child has changed the way I see the child in the manger. I am understanding and appreciating Christmas more this year after watching my wife give birth to our firstborn.
As I read the stories in Matthew and Luke this Advent, I am amazed at new depths that Jesus was once a baby — “fullness of God in helpless babe,” as we sing — a babe like 350,000 other babies that will be born today worldwide, and again tomorrow, and each day in the new year.
The angel said to Joseph, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her” — from the size of a poppy seed, to a blueberry, to an avocado, to a pineapple, and finally to a whole watermelon — “is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). “She will bear a son” — weeks of morning sickness, months of fatigue and burdensome weight, hours of painful labor and excruciating delivery — “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Matthew continues, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22–23). God with us — and the tiniest, most vulnerable among us.
He Endured the Birth Canal
One of the great wonders of Christmas is that Christ, the Son of God, did not just become human, but become a baby — as physically small, helpless, and needy as my own infant son. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7) — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), all in such a small, seven-or-eight-pound package.
Holding our first child helped me understand in a deeper way what it meant for Jesus to be a baby. I now could imagine more vividly holding the Savior of the universe — infinite power, wisdom, love, and mercy — in just one arm, rocking him back-and-forth to sleep.
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, all in such a small, seven-or-eight-pound package.”
Any of us can cradle a newborn and get a similar sensation, but experiencing the entire process — painful and fragile, mysterious and miraculous — makes it all so much more real and spectacular. The long months of pregnancy, difficult hours of labor, and agonizing minutes of pushing preach the gospel with fresh depth and clarity.
Some three decades before Jesus endured the cross, he endured the birth canal. Long before he was delivered from the tomb, he was delivered from the womb, and lifted up for his mom and dad to see for the first time — the newborn who would secure the way for countless new births.
Birth That Altered History
We hear messages every December about the manger, the stable, and all the animals, but what if Jesus would have been born today in the brand new Mother Baby Center at a nearby hospital? What if there had been plenty of room in the Hampton Inn? The drama of that night, with nowhere to have a baby, is significant and precious. But as we set up our manger scenes year after year, are we looking past one of the best parts of the story?
God became man. Even more, God became a baby — tiny, helpless, fully dependent. He could have been welcomed into the finest palace, with the most advanced technology of the day, into the greatest comfort and luxury, and it still would have been the deepest descent the world has ever known. It still would have been the birth that altered history, announcing a new beginning and promising a day when even the heavens and the earth would be born again.
Child Born in Bethlehem
Isaiah felt the weight of the baby God. When he wrote about the divine warrior King who would come to save his people from all their sins and all their enemies, he wrote, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). He could have said, “A Savior has emerged,” or “A King has come,” but God was revealing that his Messiah would be a baby first.
“When God came to rescue us, he did not ride in on a horse, but in the arms of those he came to save.”
That reality should have sent an earthquake through everything Isaiah and his hearers had known about God and the world. The God who made, rules, and upholds the world would now come down into the world. And not as the highest, strongest, and most powerful, but as the smallest, weakest, and most obscure. God was coming not on the clouds, but in a swaddle — fullness of divinity in a diaper.
Yes, Jesus was born in less than ideal circumstances — in unimaginable filth and germs by our modern Western standards and preferences. And he was born. That truth alone carries its own mystery and wonder without any added drama. When God came to save those who had sinned against him, he did not ride in on a powerful horse, but in the arms of those he came to save.