When Jesus was born, the angels sang and the star led, not just because he would grow into a great and good man, but because God, Godself, had entered the realm of flesh and blood and bone and brain.
The divide between heaven and earth, God and human, sacred and profane, was shown to be as nothing to God. Being human-even being the most vulnerable and weak sort of a human-was shown to be desirable to God. It can be hard to believe that, when we ourselves so often do not desire it at all, but, nonetheless, there it is. In the beginning, God said creation was good; at Christmas, God proved God meant it.
And so the great mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming human, begins at the same place any of us began-as a baby, needy and helpless and messy and full of potential. For regardless of the hymns and carols, Jesus must have been as fussy and dirty and inconvenient as any baby, because that was the point. God became human in Jesus-real human, not pious fantasy human. Which stayed true throughout Jesus’ life: terrible at two, awkward at 13, seeking at 20, driven at 30, mortally wounded at 33. Genuinely, messily, inconveniently human.
Some might wonder why this is such a good thing, wonder if we wouldn’t be better off with a God that stays well out of the muck-pure and clean and holy. But honestly, I’d rather have a messy God, a God I can connect to, a God that doesn’t disdain my humanity but in fact revels in it. For in the birth of Jesus, all flesh becomes a sign of God’s blessing, of God’s presence, of God-with-us.
But the connection goes the other way, too. God became human in Jesus not just in order to reach out from heaven and bless the earth but so that we could reach out and bless-or curse or question or partner with-God. In Jesus’ birth, God declares an openness to-indeed, a desire for-intimacy with us. Every feeling we have toward one another, we are allowed to direct toward God. Too often, we treat God like our best suit of clothes-to be used only when we’ll be on our best behaviour-when what we need to do is bring everything we are-the good, the bad, the embarrassing-to God. If God can become an exasperating baby who won’t let his parents get a good night’s sleep for months and months, we get to be the exhausted and overwhelmed parents worried that we’re screwing it all up.
What we need is to be vulnerable to God. And babies are good at being vulnerable. When a baby is hungry or uncomfortable or scared, she will let her parents know-because they are the only way she can change the situation. This was true of the baby Jesus, too-which tells us that, in some sense, it is true of God, because remember-the baby Jesus is God.
The great mystery of the incarnation is that, in making Godself radically present to us, God also made Godself vulnerable to us, in need of us. The story of the salvation of the world-of creation’s reunion with God and our completion as humans-depends on people like you and me, like Mary and Joseph, saying yes to the invitation to care for God, to work with God, here on earth.
This is, of course, rather scary. Like Mary and Joseph, we stand in awe of the responsibility and privilege before us, all too aware of the many ways we could, and will, fall short. But do not be afraid. The grace of parenting is that your baby raises you, teaching you as you go how to do and be what you need to do and be. When God became a baby, God took on this task of raising us into the parents, the partners, God needs.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us…and our lives will never be the same.
This reflection was adapted from a Christmas sermon delivered by the Rev. Rhonda Waters, associate priest at Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of Montreal.