Thursday, December 22, 2016

Which ‘Baby Jesus’ Are You Wanting?

This Rock City Nativity is a scene familiar to most of us around Christmas.
Maybe you’re familiar with the scene in the film, “Talladega Nights,” when lead character Ricky Bobby (portrayed by Will Ferrell) attempts to say the blessing for the Christmas meal, praying to “dear Lord Baby Jesus.”

When Ricky Bobby’s wife points out, “Jesus did grow up, you don’t always have to call Him Baby,” he replies, “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace…I like the baby version the best!”

He’s not the only one, apparently. Especially this time of the year, with Nativity scenes and Christmas pageants abounding, there’s a fascination with the cute and cuddly Jesus, nestled in a makeshift crib surrounded by Mary and Joseph, shepherds, barnyard animals, wise men and angels. The Christ Child, like most babies, fills us with a sense of, “Awww!”

Maybe, like Ricky Bobby, the reason many people prefer the infant Jesus is that babies aren’t threatening. They just lie there, and so long as they’re fed and changed in timely fashion, they pretty much let us do whatever we want.

Festive lights like these at Rock City help in celebrating
the birth of "the light of the world."
My friend, Len Allen, recently spoke about three versions of the Son of God people choose from as Christmas nears. The first is the “Santa Jesus,” or “the God of tradition.” Perhaps you’ve even seen the painting of Santa Claus kneeling to worship the newborn King. A curious mix of fable with truth, but a lot of us desire a Santa Jesus who will give us everything we want, not to mention the things we need.

The second is the “sweet Jesus,” Len said, representing “the God of emotion.” We get a warm, fuzzy feeling contemplating the idea that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” as we’re told in John 1:14. But we don’t go much beyond that. Because cooing, giggling babies don’t place great demands on us. They provoke some happy sentiment, but that’s all.

Then there’s the third version, the one that typically doesn’t come to mind when we gaze at the manger scene. It’s what Len called “the substitute Jesus, the Savior sibling.” It’s the biblical Jesus, the one that, even in that inconspicuous Bethlehem setting, already was anticipating a life that would culminate on a cross, to become the atoning sacrifice, the only cure for a terminal human disease called sin.

The “problem” with this third version of “Baby Jesus” is that, as Ricky Bobby’s wife noted, Jesus did grow up. He not only performed miracles and lived an exemplary life of love and compassion, but also said provocative things, things like:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

These hardly scratch the surface of the teachings of Jesus Christ that have turned the world upside-down and transformed lives for 2,000 years. But it’s clear they weren’t expressed by a baby perceived as an unimposing “Santa Jesus” or “sweet Jesus” that expects nothing of us.

Such words were spoken by the Jesus whose unceremonious birth in Judea that we observe at Christmas became intertwined with the horror of a cross commemorated on Good Friday, and His glorious resurrection that millions celebrate on Easter. So which “baby Jesus” do you prefer?

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