Despite there still being eight days to go until the big day, I think I can say pretty confidently that I’ve already had my favourite Christmas present this year. That’s because just a few days ago my wife gave birth to a little boy. I’m sorry, but even if you offered me a brand new Star Wars BB-8 toy, I’m sticking with the baby!
Babies are so precious – and yet babies also change everything. In fact, you can probably imagine the scene at ours! In the midst of trying to get some Christmas shopping done and putting the tree up, there’s also the joy of nappy changes, round-the-clock feeds, and that general state of sleep deprivation.
And yet, without a doubt, having a new baby has brought home to me afresh just how staggering the heart of the Christmas story is. Because we’ve all done our fair share of nativity plays, I suppose it can all become a bit routine. Shepherds? Check. Wise men? Check. Slightly-miffed-Innkeeper who’d much prefer to have been given the part of Joseph? Check!?
And we know baby Jesus is important, but we’ll often picture him laid out on carefully positioned hay, surrounded by a warm glow, a serene stable with Mary looking peacefully on. It’s all so familiar, so polished, etched onto our minds from a thousand pretty Christmas card pictures.
But having a real live baby around the house has helped me to gaze in wonder at the reality of what God did that first Christmas. The Christian claim is that this little bundle of flesh – wriggling, screaming, but-cute-as-a-button – was no less than God himself. That’s what the Old Testament prophets had foretold hundreds of years before, and that’s what the New Testament writers understood to be going on too.
And that makes the whole thing absolutely staggering. This baby really does change everything.
Religion can sometimes become about us trying to work our way up to God, but at Christmas we see that Christianity is all about a God who has come down to us.
So how do you tend to think about God? Rather than being far off and aloof, God has become one of us, to bring us back to him.
He’s pitched his tent amongst us and moved into the neighbourhood, with all of its mess and muck.
Maybe you’ve never thought about it like that before? Well, why not get yourself out to a carol service this weekend (if you’re in Barrow, come and join us for All Age Carols here) – and give this baby another look?
As I say, babies make great Christmas presents! But Christianity claims that this baby in the manger is the God who has stooped down for you and I. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we didn’t think we needed.
First published for the ‘Christian Comment’ column in the North-West Evening Mail, Saturday 17th December 2016.