Babies, Helplessness, and Jesus December 22 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

The last few years have seen no shortage of babies in the Smith family and in our extended family of 8 nephews and one niece. While these little ones may differ in many ways in their eating habits, sleep cycles, personalities, and the need for loving discipline, there is one thing they all have in common – the need for help.

Babies and young children are the very definition of helplessness. In Lesson 7 of the Self-Confrontation course, we have a little illustration that goes something like this:

Suppose a mom and dad had a new little baby. Everything went well, and they were so happy to take the little one home from the hospital. When they got home, they put the baby down, and mom started explaining to baby, “OK. I’ve spent nine long months carrying you, and now my part is done. The diapers are in the cabinet over here, your food is in the refrigerator, and your baby bed is in the corner.  You’re all set with your supplies. Just give me a call if you have any questions or need any wisdom.

It is obviously a ridiculous illustration of how a parent would not treat a newborn baby. It is used in the context of Philippians 1:6, which says “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus,” meaning that God will not leave us on the spiritual “delivery table” when we become a believer. But it reminds us of how helpless little babies are to provide for themselves. They would not survive on their own.

Everyone knows that babies need a lot of help, and a lot of things can go wrong very quickly when children are left alone for just moments. Most of us know personally about things that can happen, some of them being funny when we look back on it, but some of them are also tragic. And perhaps you have experienced some of these things in your own families.

Isn’t it amazing, then, how Jesus entered the world as a baby – helpless, vulnerable, subject to a variety of  events that could have occurred? Would He catch a deadly disease? Would He have an accident? Would He get kidnapped? Would His brothers beat Him up? Would He get distracted from His mission and decide not to go through with paying for the sins of mankind? What did He actually know and what was He actually aware of as a little baby?

Answers to these questions are all very difficult to comprehend. One of the passages in the Scriptures that is the most astonishing to me, and most difficult to contemplate, is Philippians 2:5-8, which fits right in to the celebration of Jesus’ birth:

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The fact that God the Son was willing to restrict Himself to the form of a helpless, vulnerable little baby is mind-boggling. Our brains struggle with how this is possible - how He was willing to be in such a precarious position, yet how the Father was still in control of ensuring that Jesus would, in fact, redeem the world. No human could possibly make up a story like this. Yet here we are, at Christmas in 2018, celebrating this very thing.

We could possibly relate it to committing oneself to military service. A new soldier would make the monumental commitment up front, knowing in general that service may be difficult and dangerous, but not knowing exactly what they will be called to do or exactly how dangerous it will be. The difference with Jesus being born as a human is that He knew exactly what He was going to have to do; and knowing that, He proceeded anyway.

Philippians 2:5-8 helps me to comprehend a little more deeply the significance of the love God had for us when He sent Jesus to earth. His birth is a touching, wonderful story, with angels and shepherds, and a lowly stable, but it only happened because of a very serious plan that was put in motion because of my need and your need for forgiveness and salvation. We are the ones whose helplessness made the birth of Jesus necessary.

In other words, Jesus deliberately chose to pour Himself into the helpless form of a baby so that He could grow up to be the sacrifice for those who didn’t even realize how helpless they were. When Philippians 2:7 says that He “emptied Himself,” it carries with it the idea that Jesus “laid aside His privileges.” He didn’t have to do this, but did it out of a love that was way stronger and more powerful than the love of a mother or father for a little baby.

It is this kind of love that motivates us to worship Him at Christmas, show our gratitude, and live for Him each day. A pastor of ours years ago reminded us of how odd it is that Christmas is the only time we give gifts to everyone except to the one who is having the birthday. A hymn written in 1872 by Christina Rossetti with the (not-very-Christmasy) title of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” captures the desire we should have:

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man, I would do my part
Yet what I can I give Him, I will give my heart.”

We don’t need to be rich to give the greatest gift Jesus could receive from us this Christmas.

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Steve Smith