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O come, O come, Emmanuel

A few years ago I preached a Christmas Eve message with a newborn in my arms.

I wanted to just stand there and let that tiny incarnate parable preach all by herself; eyes closed and asleep in my arms, softly breathing, a sudden shudder, then a whimper turning into a cry and her eyes slowly opening to reveal eternity.

I wonder if the physical fact of the incarnation was the most powerful word Jesus ever spoke. That he came at all speaks of an unimaginable love. That he came in this self-limiting way points to a deep humility. That he chose to take on the glory of a human body speaks profoundly about just how much he understands and values and thinks about what he has made.

As the one through whom all things were made, Jesus surely knew about the beauty, power, wisdom and physiological truth embodied in a human frame. He knew that a body would be the best way to come to us.

In her book The Philosophical Baby, Berkley professor Alison Gopnik writes about human capacities that seem to operate at their highest levels very early on in life. The infant brain is learning at a faster pace than it ever will later in life. Cognitive immaturity leaves a child’s mind wide open to newness and mystery. Babies are better at imagining alternative worlds and, as toddlers, seeing unseen companions. They’re not limited by the constraints of language yet or by what they think they know. Babies innately seek, they need to pay attention, they readily change their minds in light of new information and they “have an infinitely voracious appetite for the unexpected” (Gopnik 117).

I’ve often asked myself how the mind of God could ever fit into an infant’s brain and am now starting to realize that this was probably the best place for God to make the transition. Coming from a pre-incarnate place of ever-newness, total mystery, unlimited imagination and freedom, a baby’s wide-open brain was, perhaps, most similar to where he came from.

The mind through which the universe was made needed the space.

God’s thoughts revealed
Maybe coming as a baby was also “just right” for other reasons. Jesus came from a place of perfect triune love and total interdependence. He trusted his Father completely and depended on the Spirit wholly. Wouldn’t this then make the loving arms of a human mom and dad an ideal starting place for Jesus to fit into our world? Totally dependent for everything! The intimacy of breastfeeding reminiscent of the Spirit’s sustaining love. Being rocked to sleep in the middle of the night a comforting echo of a loving Father who has always done everything for him. 

Jesus also took on a human body that was biologically just right; physically designed for him and made to serve and sustain him for his earthly walk. As Christians we believe that the nature of that human body was something Jesus played a part in creating. Theologian John Calvin thought that each person of the Trinity played a unique role in the creation process, “To the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel and the ordered disposition of all things; [and] to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity” (Institutes of Christian Religion).

Through Jesus the ordered disposition of our bodies came to be. That order can tell us something about who Jesus is and how he thinks. Abraham Kuyper once wrote that, “There can be nothing in the universe that fails to express, to incarnate, the revelation of the thought of God. It was not the case that there existed an immeasurable mass of matter that God’s thinking attempted to process, but rather divine thinking is embedded in all created things, and it was primarily this thought of God that prescribes for created things their manner of existence, their form, their principle of life, their destiny and their progress” (Wisdom and Wonder 39).

Built-in potential
And even the physiology of our human bodies was something Jesus thought about.

We can see his wisdom in every part of an infant including their kidneys; the amazing internal organs that maintain homeostasis – balance – within our bodies. The kidney restrains the deteriorating and devastating influence of toxins in the body, enabling it to maintain a certain order in its biological life, to be good and right and to develop and grow the physiological gift with which it was endowed at creation; a microcosm of how the Spirit holds the cosmos (and how that same Spirit held him within the Trinity).

The legs that Jesus was born with were also biomechanically just right; made for walking (or slowly running) very long distances. While some animals are made for speed or sprinting or climbing or jumping, human beings are made to walk, to run and not grow weary, to cover a lot of ground. I suppose Jesus knew about all of the towns and villages he would need to get to when he ordered the disposition of human legs the way he did.

Jesus took on a human body with all of the built-in potential for glory – hands to touch us with, eyes to see us with, emotions to feel and relate to us with, a mind to reason with us with and tear ducts to cry for us with. It was all there, in that tiny infant frame. And it’s all there now, grown up and seated at the right hand of God!

Jesus took on a baby’s body – an image bearing, thought revealing and now glorified part of his creation. For more reasons than we can ever comprehend or imagine, it was the perfect way to come to us.
 

  • John is a Calgary-based writer and the pastor at Calgary Community Reformed Church. He is the author of "The Day Metallica Came to Church" and "Every Job a Parable."

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