There is not much written on the first few pages of my oldest son’s baby book. This is because of the old adage, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Not that I didn’t have anything nice to say about him. He was gorgeous, and we loved him dearly. It was the whole first-weeks-of-motherhood thing that was a challenge. Labor and delivery were rough. Nursing did not get off to a good start and so we spiraled into a regimen of feeding, supplementing and pumping that left no time for the baths and naps I was ordered to take. Hormones and sleep deprivation teamed up to create a reality for me which was a hazy shadow of the world others were living in.
Worst of all, though, was the Mystery Cry. This was when Isaac would cry, sometimes very insistently, and we would have no idea what to do about it. Was he hungry? No, not eating. Wet? Nope. Want to be held? Well, he prefers that to being put down, but it’s not helping. Gas? Maybe, but how do you fix it? Ugh. A frustrating fact for both parent and baby is that you can only really be certain of what was wrong the instant after the need is met.
As we continue in the Christmas season, it does us well to reflect on Jesus the Baby. Although I am pretty sure all the things I listed above are results of the Fall and so perhaps not applicable to the Holy Family (for instance, the Church holds that Mary was a virgin during childbirth, which means Jesus was delivered miraculously and therefore without pain and hours of pushing). However, Jesus was a Divine person who took on a completely human nature. He was a real crying, pooping, nursing baby.
Think about it for a moment. The God who existed from all eternity, the One who created the universe from nothing with just a word, took on human flesh in the womb of one of his own creatures. Is there a creature more vulnerable on this planet than a fetus? Than a newborn? Abortion was not as medically sophisticated in Jesus’ day as it is now, but it was attempted. And in Roman society, at a father’s whim, a newborn could be left out in the wilderness to die of exposure or taken by animals.
God chose to come to us in a completely helpless state. Just like my infant son, he could not communicate even his most basic needs at first. He was totally dependent on Mary and Joseph to care for him and protect him. Wow. And do we dare go a step further? He still comes to us this way. Jesus could have made a sacrament out of anything he wanted, but he chose bread and wine. Once the priest speaks those words of consecration, we believe that the bread and wine are substantially changed into Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Although it still looks and tastes like bread, it’s really the Baby of Bethlehem. And just like the baby, it is vulnerable. We can choose to receive the Eucharist reverently, or we can choose to nail it to a wall and post pictures on the internet. He leaves that up to us.
Why would the Ruler of the Cosmos allow himself to be in such a state, where at best he is sometimes allowed to go stale, and at worst is subjected to humiliating desecration? Because that is the kind of God we have. He is crazy about us and knows that we are so wounded by sin that we have trouble with authority. He knows that if he appeared before us as he really was that it would literally scare us to death. But who could be afraid of a baby? Of a piece of bread? Under these two forms, God is saying to us, “do not be afraid to approach me.” He is also in the same position as he is on the cross, shouting with his actions, “There is nothing in this for me. This is 100% for you. Do you believe now that I love you??”
Finally, Jesus becomes vulnerable for us because he respects our dignity. If he appeared in all his glory, we would be shocked into worship. He wants us to choose him. Our capacity to choose love is the key to having been made in his image, and that capacity is crippled if we are not free to also deny him. And how much joy does it give him when we, like Mary and Joseph, tenderly hold him close, sit before him in awe and worship, receive him into our hearts and homes and protect him from danger. Respectively, these are things we do when we pray, receive the Eucharist in the right state of soul, go to Adoration, make him Lord of our families, defend his honor against those who would blaspheme him and fight for the rights of all other vulnerable human lives.
So the next time you have the honor of holding a brand new baby, it could do you well to remember that this was the form in which your God first came to you. In fact, it is in that form that he comes to you every week at Mass. This baby, however makes no secret about what he wants from you: some measure of love for love.
Copyright 2009 Libby DuPont