Good Questions: Was Baby Jesus God?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

As we did earlier in our Good Questions series, we ask Who is Jesus and Why does he matter? We saw it’s not just his teachings or touching the untouchables or even his death and resurrection. It’s his identity. Who was Jesus? – a question at the center of Christmas.

The Bible lures us into a mystery that can’t be proven, one that raises more questions than answers. Whatever you might think about the Christmas story of a virgin bearing God’s Son, could it really be that God, instead of hovering aloof in the distant heavens, wanted to know us, to experience what we experience, and for us to know him and love him – and so God did the one thing we all have in common? Could it really be that God became that most vulnerable of all creatures, a microscopic next-to-nothing in a womb, there before anybody knew he was there, growing unseen, and finally being born, just like you, me, and

What better way for an all-powerful God to establish a profound connection with real human beings! It’s not a full answer, but I do like to point out that loads of people claim that they see God in a sunset; but isn’t a baby way more spectacular, wondrous and even bordering on the divine?

His nickname at birth – when he couldn’t talk or walk! – was Emmanuel, “God with us.” Could it be as we’ve said in this series, that God isn’t a genie fulfilling our wishes or protecting us from all harm, but simply God being with us in life, and in death, and beyond? It was God with us who taught those shocking, unnerving and hopeful things Jesus said. It was God with us touching the untouchables, and not fighting back when beaten and unfairly killed.

If you don’t believe this, if you doubt or question this, don’t worry. So did the first Christians, and a great multitude since then. God doesn’t mind you harboring hard questions about him. God knew going in that it seemed implausible, even scandalous. To our puzzled questions, God replies, not with anger or frustration. God replies by believing the glorious things about you that you can’t quite believe about him – or at least this is what I think God believes about me, and about you. You, your body, your self, is a fabulous thing – so fabulous that when God thought I want them to know and love me, God chose a body, a self, as the best vehicle.

Your body, and my body – and all the other bodies! Jesus with his words blessed the nobodies – thankfully. Here’s what was so spectacular, and challenging about him: by being born, and then by how he lived, and more how he died, he introduced the unprecedented thought that all people are the same, all are viewed and treated beautifully by God, all have a glorious destiny, and so we dare not mistreat or judge anybody – including ourselves.

This idea of Jesus as God in a body like yours and mine doesn’t mean he was radioactive or never sick or omnipotent. One of those gospels, from 100+ years after our four, which didn’t make it into the Bible, imagines Jesus in his crib fashioning clay into little birds and causing them to fly away. And in one of our favorite carols, we sing “little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” Jesus cried. His name in Hebrew means a cry for help. He got hungry, drooled, woke his parents up at crazy hours, got fevers and rashes, scraped his knee and got tummy aches. He was ticklish. It took him a while to learn to talk, and to walk. That’s the beauty and whole point of the Gospel. God’s in all the mundane stuff with us. God hoped (and hopes) for our love. What better way to elicit love than by being lovable in ways we know well? Even being lovable the way you and I once were lovable?

John’s Gospel, doesn’t narrate Jesus’ birth, but we do get this eloquent summary: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). That’s the glory, a very small boy, being a boy, like all of us girls and boys. Was the baby Jesus God? We have good cause to hope so, and to believe it’s so.