When I was growing up, we lived far away from one set of grandparents, who had retired from Washington, DC, to Florida. They enjoyed traveling, and they visited us a handful of times. But despite the fact that they were our grandparents, we didn’t know them well. And every time we saw them, they expressed the customary astonishment at how much we had grown.
These grandparents would send a box of gifts each Christmas, and Grandma, who had eclectic tastes and a sharp sense of humor, always included fun and interesting items. Every year, we eagerly enjoyed opening the box to see what she had picked out for us.
That is, until I was in eighth grade and my grandma sent me the most memorable of her Christmas gifts: a My Little Pony toy.
What made this gift so memorable? It wasn’t the fact that these toys were pretty new and hot on the market. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted or just what I had always wished for. It was memorable because it was so disappointing. It would have been a wonderful gift for someone else, but I felt it was wasted on me.
Here I was, 13 years old, a teenager and feeling pretty much grown up. When I unwrapped that gift, I realized that in my grandma’s eyes, I was still the child I had been. At a time of tenuous self-esteem, this was more than a disappointment; it was a blow to my sense of identity.
Have you ever had a similar misunderstanding in your relationship with Jesus? Do you relate to him as if he is eternally a baby in a manger, helpless and fragile? Do you offer him small gifts of attention and affection? assume he is endearingly innocent of the ways of humanity? seek to protect him from the truth about yourself?
At Christmas, I believe we are especially tempted to see Jesus as he was–helpless, vulnerable, frail with human need. We remember his arriving on the scene to serve and to sacrifice–and we believe that is who we worship today. We sometimes forget the miracle of Christmas was not in birth, but in incarnation. It was God adopting flailing human form. The wonder is in the contrast between Jesus’ assumed limitations and his true, measureless majesty.
Jesus is not a baby. He is not a child. He no longer wears the cloak of human limitations. There is nothing helpless or vulnerable about him. He has conquered death, he rules over space and time and all who serve them, he dwells in unfathomable light. For a picture of who Jesus truly is, read Revelation 19:11-16. For some inspiring thoughts on what this means for you and me, read the final chapter of my book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied (read the rest of the book first!).
Remembering who Jesus actually is can completely change the way we think and the way we live. We can live with remarkable faith when we know we serve a God who cannot be conquered. We can be transformed by trust. Awestruck and humbled. Flooded with hope. And we can learn to accept and embrace the unsatisfying realities of life when we remember that upon his return, he will come not as the incarnate God, but in his full and impenetrable glory. All our longings and hopes will be fulfilled–and more.
So this Christmas, remember the wonder and joy of Jesus’ birth. But don’t lose sight of the true miracle:
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
© 2018 Amy Simpson.