Some Christmas pageants have plastic baby dolls stand in for Jesus. But the liveliest of Christmas pageants have a real live baby (If their parents will allow them to be so tortured!)
And when that live Baby Jesus makes his dramatic debut – all eyes are on the little tiny fellow. You can hear a pin drop as the holy family goes up to Bethlehem and climbs the altar stairs. Heads turn and hearts melt as all eyes are on the miniature messiah — propped up in Mary’s lap — a little bitty baby, who cannot walk, who cannot talk, cries at night, and messes in his pants.
Tame and tender, the grandeur of God is reduced to a babe in arms. The Madonna and Child are everywhere this season, in paper, and plastic, and plaster: fronting Christmas cards and frozen in Christmas crèches. Sentimental and sweet, safe and sound. Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild.
Have you ever smelled a newborn baby? Have you ever stuck your nose in their neck? There is no other scent like it: a scent of the holy, a whiff of the divine, the aroma of life itself.
And if you have, you know then and there that you are hooked. Your ears tune in to decipher their every whimper, their every gurgle and cry.
Teach me, little one, how to love you.
This helpless little person wins over your heart and takes over your world – a subversive little savior.
It’s been said that Christmas is for such as these. And why not? On Christmas Day, God came into the world a screaming, scrawny infant, small and insignificant. Just as we all did once upon a time.
One Christmas, I read the story of a little fellow, a six year old named Pete who ripped open his presents and pulled out a dapper new bathrobe. His dad admiring it said, “Wow! That’s an awesome bathrobe. I wish I had one just like it.” Pete paused for a little quiet introspection. “You really like it, Dad?” “Yes, Pete. It’s the coolest bathrobe I have ever seen.” “Well, Dad” says Pete. “You can have it. You can wear it when you get little.” (The Christian Century, December 1998)
Jesus says it quite plainly “unless you turn and become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Now to be sure he’s not suggesting we literally regress to cooing and babbling, pablum and Pampers.
No, Jesus emphasizes a very special quality of life, which he himself chose.
Like a child, God himself is unafraid to be needy. God himself is not ashamed to be helpless, hungry, lonely, and small.
God gets little on our account, choosing to be born poor in a simple town to an ordinary girl. It is almost too great a mystery and yet it makes perfect sense.
This little Messiah is God on the move: moving from the powerful to the powerless, from success to failure, from the strong to the weak, from the high to the low.
And if we let this Little One in, maybe — just maybe — he can creep through our cracks, mend what is broken, sweep away some tears, lighten some burdens, brighten the darkness.
If we find a little room in our inn, and invite him in, with this Little One we are never totally alone.
This is how the subversive little savior breaks open our souls.
Love is why God gets little at Christmas.
And for love, may we, this Christmas, get little too.