In 2005, my life was changed forever with the birth of our first child. Shortly after he was born, I began writing him letters, trying to explain the many ways that his presence in this world had impacted my spiritual life, my understanding of God, and my own theological development. As a young father, staring down at my own flesh and blood, I wrote these words, trying to express to my son how Christmas would never be the same.
My Dear Son,
As a parent, Christmas starts to make a little more sense to me now. Well, maybe it doesn’t make much more sense, but it sure is a lot more real and a little less idealistic than it used to be. As I stood in that delivery room and watched the look of sheer panic on your mom’s face and the intense pain she experienced, I think I understood Joseph a little better. I experienced the helpless feeling deep down in your gut when you know that your wife needs you to do something, but the best you can do is hold her hand and try to remind her how to breathe. I know the feeling of pure joy the moment that you lay eyes on your child and the horror of thinking, “Holy smoke. I’m his dad! I have the responsibility of caring for this little guy…and he didn’t come with an owner’s manual.” No, Christmas will never be the same – and I would never want it to be.
Whenever I think of Christmas – of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all gathered around the baby Jesus in the manger – my mind turns, not to the familiar Luke 2, but to this verse from John’s Gospel: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
As Mary and the whole company looked down on that little baby, they were looking at the face of God. I’ve always wondered if Jesus had all the powers of God when he came in the form of that little baby and I’m convinced that, in many ways, he did not. In another passage, we read:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Many scholars believe that this is an example of an early hymn sung by the church. I don’t know, maybe that is why it speaks to me so clearly. It gets me thinking that Jesus – the One who was equal with God, who was God in the flesh, who was there in the beginning and through whom everything is created – took the most innocent, most dependent, most vulnerable, and weakest form possible when he came to earth. Jesus came to earth as a baby – a crying, pooping, helpless, dependent baby.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the reality of his “emptiness” became very apparent as I held you in my own arms, knowing that you could do nothing for yourself. I thought about Mary and Joseph as I changed some of your early diapers and wondered if they realized that they were not only kissing the face of God, but were changing the diaper of God as well. As Mary held baby Jesus to her breast, in the same way that your mom held you to hers, I wonder what it must have been like to give nourishment to the One who had given nourishment to the whole of creation.
After looking into your eyes, knowing that you were completely dependent on us for everything – that you could do absolutely nothing on your own – I realized the distance God traveled to come to us in the person of Jesus. I realized a little more just how important the Incarnation really was for humankind. I understood a little more the “kenosis” (self-emptying) of Jesus as the hymn in Philippians talks about.
Truly, Jesus became Immanuel (“God with us”), while also becoming “God dependent on us.” It was through this act that he became the Savior of the world because he became one of the world. In some sense, Jesus, the author of creation, became a part of creation, so that all creation might be reconciled to God through him. That is the true miracle of Christmas. As I held you – my own little miracle – in my arms, I think that the wonder of Christmas became all the more real to me and I would never want to go back to the way it was before.
I Love You,