In the 2006 comedy Talladega Nights,Will Farrel, playing race car driver Ricky Bobby, begins his family table grace with, “Dear Lord Baby Jesus.” When his wife questions why he's praying to a baby, Ricky replies that he prefers the Baby Jesus to the Grown Up Jesus. It's meant to be silly, but, in a way, I can see the character's point. There's something so beautiful about the story of Baby Jesus, and the story has a certain power over our imaginations. When we think of an innocent infant, part of us goes soft, warm, and gooey inside.
Some time ago I published a post with the title “Is the Church Irrelevant?” I re-read it recently, and I realized I'd left out the most important argument for refuting any doubt about the importance of the church. Yes, I reminded the reader that public worship and fellowship are necessary forms of human reconnection in this electronic media age. I extolled the virtues of our tradition's ancient wisdom, and I made the point that collectively we can accomplish so much more good than we can do on our own. These are all practical points, but they miss the main point which distinguishes our Christian faith.
I forgot to mention Jesus.
Now, far be it for me to put down the belief systems of other faiths—especially since I am so woefully ignorant about them. Nevertheless, I can't see myself being moved by a victorious and virtuous Mohammed, a wise Confucius, or a transcendental and spiritual Buddha. But I know what I feel when I think of the infant Jesus in the manger—a helpless child, homeless and in poverty. I've never had a baby of my own ( I've never even diapered one!), but the older I get the dearer babies seem to me . When I hold a child over the font for baptism, I'm just amazed by the power an infant has to calm me and bring a smile to my face.
Our Christmas story never ceases to have power over us because we all need to feel that sense of joy, wonder, fear, and hope which is the mystical strength of the infant. As much as we need to be loved in this world, so we need to give love. There's just something about the child's helplessness which draws out or better selves. And this is the power of God at work.
And yet there's even more: This particular little baby has so much hold over us because we know how his life will end—suspended on the pain of the cross. He will lose everything: friends, dignity, peace, and life itself because he is the one sent to love us. He will enter completely into our loss, our emotional hurt, our despair, our guilt. Even as we smile at the cooing infant, our hearts are touched by the love which will suffer for the brokenness of this messy planet.
The Christmas story is a gift which keeps on giving, because, as we, age, we learn to treasure sweetness and innocence and to feel empathy for suffering. And every time we see this tiny newborn in the filthy cattle trough, we have the opportunity to enlarge our hearts.
There are many things to love about Christmas. There are family reunions, lights, carols, gift-giving, and parties. But at the end of it all there is nothing as transformative or as humanizing as the love of God found in Jesus.
May God's love enlighten your hearts this season in peace, joy, and the wonder of the Christ Child.
A blessed Christmas to you all, and my deepest thanks for your support.
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Hey! Why not give the Christmas gift which keeps giving the whole year 'round? A UNIFIED Christian Church. Sound like a good idea? If you're Lutheran or Roman Catholic, please support my petition for full altar fellowship between our denominations. Let Pope Francis know we're ready to love our neighbors as ourselves in spite of our differences. Just click here.