By Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
I am sure that “Away in a Manger,” sometimes attributed to Martin Luther, was written before the author had children of his own.
‘The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.’ Real newborns cry. Real newborns mess their diapers. Real newborns wail at the top of their lungs. That’s why God created nursing mothers.
If we are to understand what happened in Bethlehem, we must believe that when the Baby awakes, he bawls-at least that he sobs a little – because that is what Christmas means at its very core. Let me explain.
When I was a boy, I grew up on a diet of Superman comics. You know the story. The baby born on the disintegrating planet Krypton is sent by his parents in a space capsule to Earth. The boy grows up to be Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet. And no one can tell that Kent isn’t Superman-until you get him around a phone booth.
Then there are reruns of Star Trek. At least once or twice a season an alien masquerading as a human finds his way aboard with the evil intent of commandeering the Starship “Enterprise.” He looks like a human, but don’t be fooled.
Now you must understand that what happened in the stable in Bethlehem was not pretend. That night, God took on humanness and became human. No, He didn’t lose any of His divinity-the angels’ grand proclamation on the hillside sheep fields is testimony to that. The virgin birth, rather than being at the periphery of the Christian faith as some would claim, is right at its core. It explains who Jesus is. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” Gabriel explained to Mary, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35 (NIV).
The key is found in the angel’s words to Joseph. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21 (NIV). “His people”–did you catch it? The only way God could deal with the mess made by the First Adam was through a Second Adam (Romans 5:12-19).
“For this reason,” explains the writer of Hebrews, “he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:17-18 (NIV).
God could not wink at our sin forever and be just. Nor could he just whisk it away in a momentary act of divine disregard. There was no sterile way to deal with the ugliness of sin, and we humans were powerless to erase sin’s stain, much less understand its devastation.
So, like a parent who risks His life to protect his children, God Himself came to rescue us. No play-act, this. The divine Son of God was no hologram or apparition. He became flesh – John 1:14 – because there was no other way.
In the early church, there were heretics who claimed that Jesus just pretended to be human. Spirit (good) could never mix with flesh (bad), they taught. The Apostle John jumped on that with both feet. “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This the spirit of the antichrist….” 1 John 4:2-3 (NIV).
You see, if “no crying he makes,” if Jesus is just a convincing humanoid, then what was that on the cross? Did it really die? Moreover, if Jesus did not live as a real human, filled with the Holy Spirit, what makes us think God can give us power to live for Him in this world?
There is a universe of difference between Star Trek’s Mr. Spock lifting his hand in the Vulcan greeting of “Live long and prosper” and Jesus lifting his nail-scared hands to bless His disciples. When Spock says, “Human emotions make no sense whatsoever,” we chuckle. After all, those pointy ears are a giveaway; how could he understand? When Jesus says, “I care,” we realize how true that is and drop to our knees in worship.
It wouldn’t bother me a bit to hear good healthy screaming from the stable to break the eerie stillness of that Christmas night. After all, a newborn with healthy lungs is a very good sign.