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 nativity scenes.
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.
Twenty years ago, I read the story of a little fellow, a six year old named Pete. Pete 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 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.
But Jesus emphasizes a very special quality of life, which he himself chose.
Like a child, God himself was born to be needy. God himself was 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 him in, this Little One in, he can creep through our cracks, tend to what is broken, sweep away some tears, lighten a few burdens, brighten our nights.
And the little things we might do in his name: running an errand for an elderly neighbor; babysitting a friend’s sick child so they can go to work; smiling instead of grimacing at passersby; walking or biking instead of driving to reduce your carbon footprint; cleaning up the riverfront to help care for Mother Earth; donating to lost causes; raising your hand to volunteer.
All these (and many more) little things help to pave the way for the Christ Child to come again.
Try to make a little room in your inner-self and invite the Little One in. Listen, if you can to his still small voice. The voice that whispers tidings of peace.
This season, the subversive little savior might just break open your soul.
Love, you know is born at Christmas.
Love is why God gets little at Christmas.
And for love, may we, this Christmas, get little too.