Jesus was born as a tiny, helpless baby boy. We say it but often don't believe it. There are at least three reasons we must never forget that Jesus was fully human—that he “moved into the neighborhood” as The Message translates John 1:14. This blog will consider the first of these three reasons. (I first posted this series a year ago, just after I began writing my blog. The blog's readership has grown quite a bit since then, and so I'm reposting this series again for those who began reading in 2017.)
Implication #1: We Can't Worship God "In Truth" if We Don't Believe Jesus Was a Needy, Messy, Fussy Baby
First, so we obey God’s command to worship him “in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24). The truth is that Jesus was not only fully divine but also fully human. So if we are not worshiping Jesus as a fully human person, we are not worshiping him as he is.
Unfortunately, this has always been hard for Christians to do. In the early church, a common error was to deny His humanity. The early “Gnostics” did this, because they believed all matter was inherently evil, and so if God took an actual human body He would be tainted by sin.
So it was impossible for Jesus to be a real human person. They concluded that Jesus must have only looked like he was a real, flesh-and-blood human being, but was actually not. John opened his first letter to correct this Gnostic heresy:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (I John 1:1, italics added)
We have never really gotten over this Gnostic idea. We still have a hard time believing that Jesus was born in the normal way. It is hard for many of us to think of Jesus, God incarnate, being in Mary’s womb, entered the world through the usual means and having his umbilical cord cut.
Nor can we entirely picture him growing up as all children do, going through puberty and all that is involved in that physical process, and certainly getting splinters and cuts while working in his father’s woodshop. Many of us struggle with the line in Luther’s hymn, “He who all the world encloses, now at Mary’s breast reposes.”
Our Attempts to Sanitize His Humanity
So instead we “sanitize” his humanity. Nativity scenes don’t do justice to the gritty physicality of the manger. In the popular Christmas Carol Away in a Manger we sing, “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes…” But wait--don’t all babies cry, especially in places like that? So why wouldn’t the baby Jesus also cry, if he were indeed a human baby? In this and so many other ways, we betray our Gnostic tendencies, denying implicitly and explicitly that Jesus was truly and fully a human person.
To worship him as he really is we must worship him in his humanity. We must embrace that he got tired, hungry, thirsty, and had real human emotions like the rest of us have (yet without sinning in the process). He grieved over the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). He even feared his upcoming execution and asked to be spared, if the Lord willed (Luke 22:42).
As a result of his human experiences Jesus fully understands everything we experience in our physical bodies and the world. He’s not removed from us “lowly humans” and watching our pain and struggles from afar. No, he’s already experienced it all himself and so knows just what it’s like to live as a human being.
So during this Christmas season let’s worship Jesus in Spirit and Truth by affirming and embracing His humanness, which is why we celebrate Christmas in the first place!
Worshiping Jesus as fully Human as well as fully Divine also has implications for our salvation, our spiritual growth, our work, and just about everything else. I’ll discuss theses implications in the next few weeks.
Until next week, grace and peace.