This year I’ve been painfully and shockingly confronted by the vulnerability of the newborn child.
I held and prayed for a four-month-old in an orphanage who would pass away from pneumonia just hours later. I sat with a mother in a remote village as she recounted to me the loss of her first four babies due to starvation and sickness. And back home in Sydney, I watched as our nation was shocked by the discovery of a newborn in a roadside drainpipe, a desperate act that happens too often in Nepal where I now live.
So it astounds me when I read afresh the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and consider God Himself arriving as vulnerable as any one of these babies.
Given our present day society’s expectations of ‘greatness’ – as embodied by the display of power, celebrity, wealth, fame and success – why then would God choose to reveal himself to humanity as…. a baby?
Not just any baby, but one who was…
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)
Want to start your story on the back-foot? Try coming as the result of a supposed ‘miraculous conception, ’ attested to only by your mother who was an illiterate teenager from a poor, unremarkable village in the rural Middle East. That’s Mary, not the golden-crowned-porcelain-faced apparition you’ve seen in a Catholic Church who looks closer to thirty than thirteen.
Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? (Matthew 13:55)
Your Dad’s no high-flier either. He’s a teenager as well–maybe a little older than Mary–just finishing a carpentry apprenticeship and trying to save for his wedding when this bombshell gets dropped on him. When he has to go to Bethlehem with your pregnant teenage mum, all he can manage is a donkey and a bit of hay in a dirty animal shed for Mary to give birth on, much like the conditions of the 800 women who continue to die each day in the year 2014 during pregnancy, 99% of whom are from developing countries.
Why? Because your parents are poor. Not ‘pre-loaded’ (thanks to your extravagant baby shower) with the designer pram, a fully decked out baby room and endless supplies of clothes, nappies and toys from doting soon-to-be Grandparents, Aunties and friends. Rather, you’re like the majority of the world’s 1.2 billion people who still live in extreme poverty today.
‘Get up, ’ he said, ‘and take the child, and his mother, and hurry off to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to hunt for the child, to kill him. (Matthew 2:13)
There’s no time for rest. You’re wanted and there’s already a price on your head. Your parents start scrambling to gather what they can. Before you know it, you’re being whisked away in the dark of the night across foreign borders, homeless, frightened and unsure of what’s to come. It’s no wonder then that there are people of yours today – right near where you were born in fact – still experiencing the very same circumstances (but now at the hands of ISIS), who still manage to relate to you and cry out for you even as they now join the 42.5 million people displaced by persecution and conflict in our world, classified as either refugees, internally displaced people or asylum seekers.
For me, considering the infant Jesus as each of these things – vulnerable, poor and on-the-run – speaks to me of a God who was willing to experience the very worst of what this world has to offer.
This God in a manger wants more than anything to be able to relate to us in our own poverty, brokenness and times of despair.
This God is not distant but desires to be near–to walk amongst us as one who has been through everything so that we might go to Him with anything: our counselor, comforter, saviour and friend.
But that’s just me.
What does this picture of ‘baby Jesus’ say to you?