Last winter I walked down a street in my town and spotted something in a storefront window that gave me pause. I peered inside to take a closer look. There before me was a delightful, ten-inch figurine of Santa Claus. In his arms he cradled a soundly sleeping baby Jesus. I would have snatched it up, had it not been a little pricey. Two thousand years of culture, fact and fiction merged before me in pure ceramic brilliance. I may have missed a truly golden retail opportunity.
Since his birth, somewhere near the beginning of the first century, we’ve thought about and pictured Jesus many different ways. How do you picture him?
This question undoubtedly stirs up plenty of images. Found amongst them, perhaps, is a be-haloed infant nestled in a bunch of hay. That Jesus was a baby is both a confounding mystery and an inspiring notion (depending on who you think he was, of course).
There’s always been great debate concerning Jesus’ true identity. In the midst of this debate, however, millions around the world continue to celebrate seasons like Christmas and Easter, and most agree that Jesus has at least a little to do with these two particular holidays.
A primary story we tell and celebrate at Christmas surrounds the birth of Jesus. We learn about his infancy and adult life in the Bible, a collection of writings from dozens of authors, penned over hundreds of years. Four books in the Bible, called the gospels, give us Jesus’ life story.
The gospel accounts of Jesus’ life tell us two things, amongst others, that the rest of the Bible’s New Testament corroborates: Jesus was born, and Jesus was human; just like you and me. We find ourselves in good and abounding company if this throws us for somewhat of a loop. If the Bible clearly states that Jesus was human, what do we do with all the God stuff surrounding his story?
When some friends heard I was writing a book, they asked what it was about. I told them: “It’s a book about baby Jesus.” A number of them followed up their first question with a second: “Is it for kids?” I said that it wasn’t, and then rather puzzled looks slowly spread over their faces. Once a barista at a local coffee shop inquired about what I was writing. I tried describing the project in a less direct manner, just to keep things simple. “It’s about Christmas.” I said. “Oh, like a children’s book?” She replied.
There’s no getting around it. We tend to associate Christmas with children, and rightly so. Thinking like a child is, in part, helpful in understanding Christmas according to its biblical roots. Kids are filled with wonder and aren’t afraid to ask questions. Grown-ups would do well to learn from kids in this regard.
I live and work in the quaint village of Fort Langley, British Columbia. It’s full of antique stores, artisan workshops, restaurants and coffee shops. Fort Langley is quaint, but rarely quiet. The village is a favourable shooting location for film and television productions, particularly Christmas movies. Almost any time of the year you can wander into a Christmas film set, even in the middle of August, fake snow and all. Fort Langley is a year-round Christmas town.
The discussion surrounding exactly when Jesus was born in the calendar year is robust. Some say it could have been in December, others hold it was in the spring. It may not really matter. Just like I can wander onto a Christmas film set in Fort Langley at any time of the year, we can investigate and experience the message and meaning of Christmas any time we like, too.
The birth and infancy of Jesus are also not events we can discuss in a vacuum. In order to fully appreciate Jesus we must consider his whole story. Jesus’ origins are important, and we’ll examine those throughout the book, but we’ll also draw from the rest of his life and the broader biblical narrative.
Some readers are totally comfortable with the notion that Jesus was not just a man but also “God in the flesh.” If you live in that world, welcome. I hope you’ll be inspired as you think about Jesus, God, babies and hay.
Others of us aren’t so sure about a Godly Jesus, and so a divine infant can sound a little far-fetched. We may not be completely comfortable with a Christian world view. We may even question whether we should be propping up dead trees, eating copious amounts of stuffing and giving each other gifts in Jesus’ honour to mark the big day in the first place.
If you live in that world, thanks for choosing this book over television. You may not be aware of this, but you’re actually amongst a small percentage of people intentionally and honestly asking big and brave questions about Jesus. I admire and applaud your curiosity. Maybe you’re not sure what to think about the baby in the manger, and that’s okay—this little book won’t ask you to make up your mind about him by Christmas morning—I’m just happy you’re giving Jesus some thought.
Regardless of what each of us thinks about Jesus’ true nature, let’s reflect on his infancy and some of his adult life together. We’ll ask questions like:
How did Jesus’ life start?
What made Jesus so special?
How does Jesus’ life potentially inform our view of the divine?
The most famous and influential figure to emerge from the ancient world, if not all of history, tends to inspire wonder and induce contemplation around the holiday season. His extraordinary life, we are told, began in a barn.
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas