Sometimes stories are so familiar, we forget how odd they are. For Christians the nativity stories are a prime example. If you were God and you wanted to call people into a new relationship, how would you do it? I’m not sure what I would do, but I don’t think becoming a baby born to poor parents in a occupied land would have crossed my mind.
Plenty of theologians have spent time thinking about why God would become human? The fancy theological word is incarnation. You might have heard a sermon on that topic in the past day or two. Like most things God does, there is not a simple, single meaning to the incarnation.
When we were expecting our first child, a woman at our church would-almost every Sunday- come up to us and say, “Having a baby changes everything.” Quite frankly, it got a little tiresome hearing this every week. I mean, of course things change when you have a baby. I knew that. But I didn’t really “know” that until I had a baby and realised that when people tell you everything changes, they are exactly right. There is not any part of your life that isn’t changed. Babies are very disruptive. And they are disruptive precisely because they are helpless. If they were less helpless, they would be less disruptive. Babies change everything. That is the business God is in as well, changing everything.
God, being God, could of course change everything without our help. God doesn’t need our consent. But God chooses not to compel us, not to force us. In the Nativity stories, God changes everything by being helpless. That is almost as odd as God becoming a human baby.
Babies need parents. Babies need someone to care for them. To nurture them. To feed them. Babies grow into children and into teenagers and into adults, but always they need parents. The role of the parents changes over time. But your are always (so I hear) a parent.
I remember looking at my newly born son and thinking, “What am I supposed to do now?” “How do I take care of this baby?” It’s an overwhelming task when you think about it- to care and feed and keep safe and teach and love this baby. Sometimes you can see the big picture and you can make some long term plans. Sometimes its all you can do to get through the next 5 minutes. Parenting is about faithfulness in everything. It’s planning for college and planning for tonight’s dinner.
I also remember looking at him and wondering when his “real” parents would come and get him. Shouldn’t somebody- some “real” adult be responsible for him? Being a parent was something other people did. I’m not up to the task.This parenting business calls for real adults. Of course we were and are his real parents. But it took me a couple of weeks to feel like a real parent- to embrace this change – this baby and to realized I loved him like I had never loved anyone else.
Being a parent brings responsibility. Its serious business, parenthood. Sleepless nights, endless laundry, another meal, more homework. We sacrifice our needs and wants for our child’s needs. We pay attention to the kind of neighborhood we live in. We care about our children’s friends. We want a save, healthy place for our children. We want a world where all children can flourish, where they can be what they were created to be.
At the same time parenting is joyous work. It is no doubt the best thing we have ever done.
I wonder if this isn’t part of what God was hoping we would understand. That we have responsibility. There aren’t responsible adults somewhere else that we can give the baby Jesus to. We have to commit. We have to love like we have never loved before. We need to think about our answer to the “now what” question. We need to think about the future and today. We need to think about our responsibility to God. And at the same time this is joyous work and the best thing we have ever done.
We make comparisons between what we understand and experience as humans and what we understand and experience with God. We use metaphor to help us grasp a larger reality. Yet all metaphors fall short of the reality they describe. Sometimes new metaphors can help us think in new ways. We often think about ourselves as children of God and rightly so. But in what ways does that concept fall short or limit us? We don’t often think of ourselves as parents of God. And yet when God comes to us as a baby, isn’t that what is being said? How could this metaphor help us grasp another aspect of the larger reality?
What does it mean for us to be parents of God? How do we create a world where God can flourish? “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. How do we help God be all God intends to be?