The Humanity of Jesus
CHRISTMAS is about traditions and if you are like me you love your traditions. The lights, the sounds, the scenes, the food, the smells, the shopping... on your couch, in your sweats, scrolling through Amazon Prime in search of that something special. Ok, some traditions have changed a bit.
Here’s a thought, speaking of traditions. Do you ever wonder how many different nativity scenes you have seen in your lifetime? On display in homes; at Christmas pageants; in malls; at churches - made of myrtle wood, ivory, ceramics - they are an iconic picture of the season. The usual characters are most always present: Baby Jesus in the manger (w/straw); Mary and Joseph looking down at the newborn; the shepherds, of course are next – a few on each side in their striped robes and head pieces and holding the expected shepherds’ crook. It’s almost like everyone is posing for a picture. And you can’t forget the animals. A few sheep – probably representing the rest of the flock -are present; a cow or two (maybe a donkey) are often there as it was probably their sleeping and dining area that was invaded for this birth scene. And then there are the camels. They are in the picture because there are also wise men at the scene who, of course, needed transportation. The wise men are cool, dressed in full regalia befitting the royal, noble, gift-bearing folks we know them to be. We try not to remember that they didn’t really show up at the manger scene as they came to see Jesus later in the story but they fill out the nativity so well – and why let a few facts get in the way of a good picture?
Did you ever wonder what it really was like there in Bethlehem, though? Or even what it must have smelled like there with the animals? And how Mary and Joseph actually looked? If you were the proverbial fly on the wall (by the way, you never see flies in nativity scenes even though you know they were there), what would you see, or hear or feel? Would you sense the awkwardness of having uh, well, you know – rather smelly shepherds so close to the baby-maybe wanting to hold him? Would you pick up on the frustration of Joseph who was feeling horrible that he couldn’t have provided a better place for his wife to give birth? Would you see the tiredness etched in Mary’s face that conflicted with her great joy? And the baby – the holy child – the Son of God – the soon to be Savior of the world… from your perch on the wall would you be a little disappointed that there was neither a glow nor a halo above the child’s head? Would you be surprised that Jesus looked like, well, every other brand-new baby you had ever seen? Would you be shocked of the little Lord Jesus that crying he did, in fact, make? I know, I know, I’m ruining a perfectly good, well tried and tested and much revered image of Christmas for you – my apologies.
Bear with me a little longer – because there is a point to be made and a truth to be told, I believe, that far exceeds, in value, the warm and fuzzy feeling we get gazing on the nativity scene. You see… that precious baby Jesus, holy child of God, Prince of Peace, promised Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of lords was a genuine, absolutely bonafide, with all the bells and whistles – human! Not ‘sort of human’ or God masquerading as a human. When the Word became flesh, as John wrote, and dwelt among us – it means he became flesh. He took on a lowly position and humbled himself in obedience to God, having set aside his divine position, privileges and prerogative. Okay, that’s a little deep – let’s look at it this way.
Baby Jesus soon became ‘toddler Jesus’ (‘terrible two’s) and then ‘young boy Jesus’. He rode on donkeys and played ball with his friends. He asked ‘why’ when his mom told him he had to do chores. He skinned his knees and caught colds. He learned his lessons from his dad and from the local rabbi – even when he didn’t feel like learning. He wasn’t so jazzed, at times, about going to bed so early at night.
The young boy Jesus soon became ‘young man Jesus’ and he began to learn a trade from his father. He took pride in crafting things with hammers, saws and chisels and proclaiming to satisfied customers that the yokes made at Joseph & Sons always fit well – they were easy on the oxen and made their load light. He started earning and spending his own money. Before long the talk amongst his friends gravitated towards girls and he noticed them in a new and unsettling way. He grew taller, his voice changed, he had his eye on the new robes that came from Persia.
Young man Jesus was soon to learn what real grief and tears felt like as he experienced the loss of his father. Ready or not he took on the responsibility of caring for his mother and looking out for his younger siblings. He became the family’s breadwinner and protector. He grew up really fast.
Early on in life, Jesus began to come to grips with who he really was. He heard the incredible stories surrounding his birth from his mother and father. He understood he was different and his calling came from his true Father in heaven and that he could do nothing apart from Him. He received divine insight like no one else and realized he perceived things and could do things others could not. He understood at an early age what the ‘business of his Father’ was really about. But that did not negate his humanness. And when he answered the call of his Father, invited 12 men to follow him and set out to carry out His will he did not leave behind his human emotions. Jesus was profoundly frustrated with his disciples at times and down right angry with the religious leaders of his day for being such hypocrites. He laughed with his disciples till his ribs hurt when they came back from collecting the tax money from the mouth of a fish and he wept till his heart seemed to break when his good friend Lazarus was in the grave. He grew tired of the crowds at times finding ways to slip from their midst. And maybe he was more profoundly human the most when he needed time alone with his Father in heaven. He constantly sought reassurance from him regarding why he was here and asked often for the strength and wisdom to keep on going.
As the days of Jesus’ life wound down he would know what it meant to experience both the loyalty and love of friends and their betrayal. He would receive praise and adoration as well as insults and hatred. He would be rejected by those who once followed him and cared for by those closest to him. He would have a troupe of soldiers escort him away and a solitary, albeit misguided, sword yielded in his defense. He would feel unbearable pain, endure the worst sort of injustice and experience complete and utter abandonment.
The author of the Book of Hebrews says, “it was necessary for Jesus to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. The baby Jesus born in the manger would one day become the Man Savior who died for our sins. In route he would face all of the testings we do, yet without sin. And for what purpose? So, that now we can come boldly to the throne of our gracious God knowing that Jesus knows and loves us not just because he is God but because he was human.
This Christmas season; let’s enjoy the scene of the nativity that is so much a part of our celebration and our culture. But let’s use it as a reminder of a Savior who became like us so that we can truly find in him all that we need – when we need it most.