Some of our Christmas carols make bold claims about Christ. Some remind us of Jesus’ miraculous birth, while others recall the revelation of God’s Messiah to angels and sages. Perhaps the greatest claim is made in the classic hymn, Away in a Manger, which states that when it came to baby Jesus, “No crying he made.”
Now that is a miracle. I can only imagine what it might be like to have a baby that never cries, whines, wets the bed, and learns the word “No.”
This baby is miraculous indeed. He probably also knew intuitively how to share his toys, avoid back-talking his parents, and eat his vegetables. No wonder most of the artwork depicting the Christ child throughout history shows him as a miniature man in saintly repose.
Was Jesus really like that? Did Jesus rest in a manger that heavenly and grow up without any need for training, correction, or parental guidance?
We know that Jesus had growin’ up days like the rest of us, a fact we recognize during the season of Epiphany. Twice in Luke 2 (vs. 40 and 52), scripture tells us that Jesus “grew in wisdom and in stature.” What about the rest of Jesus’ maturation and growth?
As far as one blogger is concerned, Jesus did do all the things that babies and infants do, including cry. But Jesus “never cried in a sinful way.” That’s a stretch, and when I think back to when my children were infants, I don’t recall them crying in a sinful way either. Babies cry; that’s how they communicate.
Our thoughts about baby Jesus, no matter how far-fetched they are, reveal something about our theology of Christ, which I would guess is not as developed as it should be.
Let me remind you, dear reader, that the orthodox view of Jesus’ personhood is that he is fully God and fully human. Jesus was 100% of both. He is, of course, without sin although even that theological premise rests on a single thread of scripture from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (5:21).
The argument surrounding Jesus’ divinity and humanity was settled long ago in the fourth century. At that time, priests, bishops, and other church leaders debated Jesus’ Christology and the incarnation.
One priest, Arius of the Church of Bancalis in Egypt, claimed that Jesus was fully human and therefore not the same “substance” (as a bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, claimed) as God. This became known as the Arian Controversy.
Bishops across the empire settled the disagreement in the famous Council of Nicaea in 326 CE, when nearly 300 bishops argued that Jesus was both divine and human, not just like God, but God in the flesh.
The second verse of the classic Christmas hymn, O Come, All Ye Faithful, recites some of the theological statements that came out of the Council:
“True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal . . . Son of the Father, begotten, not created.”
In my own experience, I find it important to highlight both aspects of Jesus’ personhood. He was fully divine, and Jesus, who was “one with the Father” (John 10:30) embodied God’s reign and bridged the gap between heaven and earth. God chose to live among us in a particular place and time, a great admission of the value that God places on us humans.
Yet, Jesus is fully human and, therefore, did what most babies and children do. At the same time, Jesus also suffered, felt the pain of grief, and faced hardship. This is good news: When I face the same, Jesus–and, in turn, God–knows exactly how I feel. In Jesus Christ, God has become an intimate sojourner with humanity.
I don’t think any of us like to think of Jesus as a baby who spit up, made messes, and threw his food to see if it stuck to the wall; but, he likely did. It’s Jesus’ very humanity, however, that makes the Gospel for what it is. If Jesus showed us the way, then we can follow in faith, hope, and love with the same confidence.