“No, he was a REAL baby!” my six year old daughter insists, eye brows lifted as she explains to her four year old sister. “It’s not a just story!”
My four year old’s blue eyes are wide as she looks off out the window, pondering.
Jesus was a real baby.
Even as an adult, I find myself forgetting that sometimes. Not in a theological or historical way. But in a physical, emotional way. It’s easy to pass by, even in our fairly ‘religious setting’. A home full of nativities, Advent calendars and Christmas story books piling up in every corner. Even our beautiful church has a large nativity set up at the entrance. Good sized, glossy ceramic animals sit on scattered hay, staring at an empty manger. Waiting for the glossy, over-sized ceramic baby to be placed there on Christmas Eve. Our priest laughs at how big our Baby Jesus is compared to everything else.
Still, it really is all so beautiful. What lovely images.
What an inspiring story. Ah… yes, let me remember.
Those reminders have a greater purpose. Not just to elicit a sweet ‘awww…’ from our lips, but to cause us to remember the reality of what we celebrate this Advent and Christmas season. It is REAL. Maybe I’m the only one (though I think I’m probably not), but when I take a few quiet minutes to really think on this, my brain starts to hurt. The incarnation is a mind-blowing concept. Do you know what I mean?
If we really are Christians, then we really believe. Not the kind of ‘belief’ that is scrawled in a pretty font across department store displays or talked about in the Santa movies our children watch. Not in ‘Christmas magic’ or in the ‘Spirit of the Season.’ We believe even more than a story book or a Christmas pageant where my daughter dresses up as a cute little sheep in the field. We aren’t asked to be merely sentimental, to celebrate a tradition, a story, a hopeful myth.
No, even more!
We believe in the historical, physical, flesh and blood reality of the birth of a small baby, who changed all of eternity.
I close my eyes, not to imagine, but to know.
It is a stunning thing to ponder. This beautiful, awesome event.
“He was a REAL baby!” Whose nostrils inhaled his first crisp breath, whose little chubby hands gripped at his mother’s hair, whose legs and arms were creased with baby softness. His little body took up space here in this atmosphere, just as mine does right now.
My friend Kristy shared the following passage at a Christmas gathering recently. It seemed to fit perfectly with this new meditation of mine.
The following is an excerpt from a play by Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Barjona, Jeu scénique en six tableaux’. Yes, Sartre, the French militant atheist philosopher. During WW II, he was imprisoned in a German prison camp. He befriended a Jesuit student, Paul Feller, who asked Sartre to write a Christmas play to cheer up his fellow French captives. Sartre complied. In this passage, Sartre writes of a blind man, describing how he would paint the Blessed Mother in the stable. Some believe that Sartre had an end-of-life conversion. After reading this, I find it very likely:
Sartre on the Virgin Mary
The Virgin is pale, and she looks at the baby. What I would paint on her face is an anxious wonderment, such as has never before been seen on a human face. For Christ is her baby, flesh of her flesh, and the fruit of her womb. She has carried him for nine months, and she will give him her breast, and her milk will become the blood of God. There are moments when the temptation is so strong that she forgets that he is God. She folds him in her arms and says: My little one.
But at other moments she feels a stranger, and she thinks: God is there – and she finds herself caught by a religious awe before this speechless God, this terrifying infant. All mothers at times are brought up sharp in this way before this fragment of themselves, their baby. They feel themselves in exile at two paces from this new life that they have created from their life, and which is now peopled by another’s thoughts. But no other baby has been so cruelly and suddenly snatched from his mother, for he is God, and he surpasses in every way anything that she can imagine. It is a hard trial for a mother to be ashamed of herself and her human condition before her son.
But I think that there are other rapid, fleeting moments when she realizes at once that Christ is her son, her very own baby, and that he is God. She looks at him and thinks: “This God is my baby. This divine flesh is my flesh. He is made from me. He has my eyes, and the curve of his mouth is the curve of mine. He is like me. He is God and he is like me.”
No other woman has been lucky enough to have a God for herself alone, a tiny little God whom she can take in her arms and cover with kisses, a warm-bodied God who smiles and breathes, a God that she can touch, who is alive. And it is in these moments that I would paint Mary, if I was a painter, and I would try to capture the air of radiant tenderness and timidity with which she lifts her finger to touch the sweet skin of her baby-God, whose warm weight she feels on her knees, and who smiles.
Spend time today, either in your home, at church or adoration, and read through your favorite Gospel version of the nativity and spend some time in prayer over those events.