What Child is This?
by General John Gowans –
When it comes to events like Christmas we are all, it seems, impossible romantics. As with all Hollywood semi-historical sagas, we flatly refuse to allow mere facts to get in the way of a good story.
The Bible makes no mention of kings but on the basis that one of the visitors to the baby Jesus made him a gift of gold we insist that they must have all been kings! It was probably the tiniest of pieces, but we prefer to think that the gold took a camel to carry it! What would they have done with so much wealth in Nazareth? They wouldn’t have needed the carpenter’s shop.
According to the record, the visitors were wise men and the actual number of the group is not stated. You try telling the people gazing wistfully at the crèche outside the church in the high street that they were not kings and that there could well have been more than three of them. I warn you, they will give you a rough time. They may not actually punch you on the jaw, but angrily they will tell you that you don’t know your Bible!
Then there is the outrageous idea that this baby was a tearless baby! Has any one of us parents produced a soundless baby? A baby that never cried? We would call the doctor immediately in distress if such a child was born. The fact is that the cry of a newborn baby is a reassuring sound. It is music to our ears It proves the child is normal. But when we are thinking about the infant Jesus, who cares about the facts? We would rather pick up our carol sheet and sentimentally sing:
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes…
It’s a nice bit of poetry, but frankly I don’t believe it! What kind of child would that be?
Why do we prefer to cherish this tearless, plastic doll impossibility of a child, rather than accept the total humanity of Jesus? He may have been something more than human, but he was certainly nothing less! Do we prefer the rosy romantic version of the Bethlehem event simply because the idea of God cramming as much as can be got of himself into a real child, a child who needs the milk of a mother and his diapers changed regularly, is too much for us to swallow? This despite the act that the apostle Paul reminds us that “God was in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Maybe we should sing the other, perhaps less popular carol:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity!
The fact is that the flesh of Jesus was the real thing and his baby tears were as copious as those of any other baby.
The only serious question to be asked is: “What on earth was God doing there, all wrapped up in skin and bone, using soft brown eyes to see with and now and then bawling his head off?”
A difficult question that, but Paul comes again to bail us out. Writing to the Christians in Corinth, he says;
“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” In other words, God was inside this child trying to draw miserable humanity closer to himself; trying to get humanity linked with divinity; trying to gather suffering humanity up in his arms.
If we want a really happy Christmas we would be wise to let him do that for us. Let him bridge the gulf we have stupidly created between ourselves and himself. Let him link our sometimes-awful human-ness with his always-beautiful divine-ness. How better could he do this than by coming into our world looking very much like us?
If we accept the message of Christmas for ourselves, the message of a God who loves us so much that he reaches out to us in the form of a human being, a human child, we will be the better for it and, strangely, more beautiful people. People who are reconciled with God, reunited with God, are always more beautiful and usually happier too.