“Why did Jesus take the lowly route of incarnation? Why choose the slow, and maybe poverty-lined years of the carpenter’s cottage? Why not receive fame as a king at once? ...Why not split the skies in the fiery chariot in which Elijah went up to heaven and descend some black night, preceded by the voice of an archangel?"
I opened the little leather door and was stunned by a torrent of memories from years past. All the times I had opened an Advent calendar door as a child, and again as a dad with my little girl. The memories were as fresh as the smell of a Christmas tree.
But it’s not my own child I see behind the beautifully crafted, tiny leather door, it’s the child.
Advent really begins and ends with Jesus and so does this calendar. Its review, I suppose, but there He is, a tiny baby in about as "un savior-like" a situation as can be. If you were searching for a savior for the world, the last person you'd think you'd find would be an illegitimate baby, lying in a feeding trough in a cave with a teenage mom.
The last thing you'd think you'd see would be fanfare provided by some local shepherds who look and smell like...local shepherds. If you figured the King of Kings was arriving with full entourage and secret service, you would have missed Him altogether. Yet here He is. Unassuming, totally approachable, intimidating no one and wooing every heart with His innocence and vulnerability.
The unmistakable power of the baby in the manger was that He blew open the door of access to God. He did it by entering this world the same way we all do, and by allowing Himself to be as vulnerable and touchable as all babies are. And by doing what all babies do...making us smile, touching our hearts, giving us hope. Babies do exactly that for us. They are like little second chances for us every day of their lives.
There is something miraculous about holding a baby, particularly if you have never done it before. The way they look at you, the way they see into your soul. Babies especially those only minutes or hours old- have no preconceived notion about us as we hold them. They don’t have the slightest idea about our past, our failures, and our secrets. They only know what they see before them right now…just like Jesus has been telling us for 2,000 years. That He has removed our sins from us as far as the East is from the West. That He came to, once and for all, remove that ugly block of guilt and shame that stands between us and that Father who loves us so dearly He’d sacrifice His own Son to bring us home. He trumpeted this message in the cry of a tiny babe, in a cave in Bethlehem.
That is why -among other things- God chose to give us glimpses, in two of the four gospels, of Jesus as an infant baby. Because he wanted to make certain that we got it. That we understood why he allowed His son to enter this world the way every one of us has entered it.
He wanted us to all find ourselves here at this dank, cold, musty cave where His own Son would meet us if only we would come find Him. This is the place where He would lay in our arms, silent, vulnerable, precious and loving.
This unsuspecting cave was where He came into this world longing to be loved, handled, held, and touched. All we need do is simply crawl through that small opening and find our way, by faith, to this trough where He lay waiting for us. The creation coddling the Creator. The ultimate act of trust, vulnerability, and loving invitation.
Jesus was as much a human infant as my own daughter was...or as your child. He needed to be burped after he ate. He made messy diapers that made his parents laugh. He slept when Mary wanted to be awake, and he was wide awake when her teenaged body was worn out and needed to rest. He blew spit bubbles without knowing he was doing it, but He laughed anyway. He smiled instinctively at the sound of his mother’s voice. He probably had dark, unruly hair that had a mind of its own.
All those wonderfully precious moments that mean so much to parents of newborns, Jesus provided them to Mary and Joseph. Maybe so much so that his parents occasionally forgot about the angels, and the voices from God, and those visions and dreams. He curled his tiny hand around Joseph’s finger more than once and reduced his stepfather to tears of joy, fear, and feelings of unworthiness.
When we come to this manger, in this cave, and we see this infant for ourselves, it changes everything. All those images of God as a lightning bolt throwing, angry, mean-spirited God have no place here. This baby destroys lies about a lack of forgiveness that we have attached to this wildly forgiving God.
Until the moment of His birth, learned men who claimed to speak for God, spent 4,500 years teaching us that He was mad at us. That He hates us, punishes us and then enjoys the pain we are in. But in one moment that forever splits history, the infant baby Jesus demolishes that image and replaces it with that of a tender little boy, hours old, reaching out to wounded hearts bound in fear of judgment. Jesus came here and took on the form of a baby. Not just any baby, but a poor, illegitimate, scandalous child who would grow into the “Man of No Reputation” of Philippians chapter two. He became nothing.
You can’t fear a baby. Period. A baby wasn’t around when I did those things I am so ashamed of…he is only a few hours old. His memory begins and ends with me holding Him. He touches my deepest wounds and darkest places and his touch sets me free.
That’s what babies do…especially this baby. God knew that. He knew that to break down the walls of fear and shame that man had built between him and us it would take something amazing and special and miraculous.
So when the time had come, he said “They've had 4,500 years of seeing me as mean-spirited, angry, harsh, and distant. They need to see me as I really am... crazy in love with them. I know what I'll do. I'll go and live amongst them. And I'll come as a baby, so they'll see me as I long for them to see me, touchable and wanting to love them". Who can resist that?” I think it worked.