Right after Jesus was born He was wrapped in a crude little piece of cloth and placed in a feeding trough. That is, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Wise men at some time after his birth - maybe many weeks after - brought Him the ointments of kings. But at the time of He came into the world, Jesus lacked any kind of a regal reception. He came into the world surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of farm animals.
For over two millennia we have been trying to understand what it means that the Creator of the world became like one of us. Christian orthodoxy accepts that He was born like a human baby, that he grew up like we do, and that He experienced the joys and the pains of mortality - only without committing sin. Nonetheless, according to this same orthodoxy, God was not transformed into a man, nor for that matter, was man changed into a god. It all seems a bit confusing. He is like us and yet he isn’t. Why did He come to earth this way in the first place? It leaves one wondering if we haven’t left something important out of the “official version.”
Fortunately at Christmastime we celebrate the birth of Christ as related in the gospels and not as indicated in the official creeds. If we stop and reflect on these remarkable verses, we can still somehow hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle. We can imagine the farmyard steam rising around the baby Jesus in His morning manger, and breathe in the rural pungency of a warming spring day in Bethlehem.
Perhaps Baby Jesus had a lock of curly black hair, a freckle on his chin, maybe even playful greenish brown eyes. He probably puckered His nose for a noisome fly. And if you tickled His feet with a piece of straw, He very likely curled His chubby little toes. It seems to me that if these stories were written for any reason at all, they were written to make one thing perfectly clear: Jesus is one of us.
This turns out to be a troubling thought if you don’t have a very good perception of human beings. In fact it almost verges on blasphemy. How could a divine being - even living without sin - become a mortal being and still be God? Even worse is the conclusion atheists draw from a very mortal Jesus: “of course he was mortal, what else did you expect?”
The question that needs to be asked is: where did we come up with this poor perception of human beings to begin with? For “Ye are Gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6.). if we start with the understanding that we are created in the image of God and that He insists on calling us His children (for the very obvious reason that He is our father) why should we wonder that our older brother Jesus Christ was born a human being just like us?
We have trained our minds for too long imagining that we can never understand the condescension of god (or call it the incarnation if you like). As a result, we have lost sight of our own potential. We have lost sight of who we really are.
The little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes is our brother, and He has made it possible to return home. If we haven’t figured this out yet, it’s time to think again about the true meaning of Christmas.