Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dangerous Babies

A cooing newborn baby is much less dangerous looking than a man who bursts from a tomb alive after being dead for three days. We "get" babies. Babies are commonplace, and they speak to us of the best that we can be, full of promise and innocence. Dead men who stand up and walk out of graves alive again most certainly upset the normal order of things. Such men threaten to overturn everything. They are dangerous and we really don't like them. Unlike babies, The Resurrected are scary.

Babies, by contrast, seem tame. The problems is that we want to keep the baby as a baby, ignoring the danger inherent within. The baby in the feeding trough may look like any other baby, but it requires a baby of a different kind to become The Resurrected. If we look deeper, we find that the baby is just the beachhead of the Great Invasion. He is not tame at all. He is a dangerous baby. 

This is why Christmas is so much more popular than Easter. It is easier to tame. In trying to tame it, however, we fail to make real sense of the reality of it.

Ricky Bobby in Talledaga Nights merely channeled the zeitgeist when he said:
"Look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I'm sayin' grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grownup Jesus or Teenage Jesus or Bearded Jesus or whoever you want... I like the baby version the best, you hear me? I win the races and I get the money...Dear Tiny Jesus, in your golden fleece diapers with your tiny, little fat balled up fists..."
As usual, N.T. Wright nails the problem in a recent article from Christianity Today. He explains how the first paragraphs of John's Gospel destroy any chance we might have of removing the sharp edges from the baby Jesus figurine. He urges us to "get real and get johanine" about the Christmas story.
Unless we recognize this strange, dark strand running through the Gospel, we will domesticate John's masterpiece (just as we're always in danger of domesticating Christmas) and think it's only about comfort and joy. In truth, it's also about incomprehension, rejection, darkness, denial, stopped ears, and judgment. Christmas is not about the living God coming to tell us everything's all right. John's Gospel isn't about Jesus speaking the truth and everyone saying "Of course! Why didn't we realize it before?" It is about God shining his clear, bright torch into the darkness of our world, our lives, our hearts, our imaginations—and the darkness not comprehending it. It's about God, God as a little child, speaking words of truth, and nobody knowing what he's talking about.
It is normal for the Dad to hand out cigars at the birth of his child. The family and friends celebrate, but the birth of a baby is hardly news. This baby, however -- this God in an Infant -- this is no ordinary child. Only because of this is the birth worth noting two millenia after the fact.

In God's war on death, the birth of Jesus is only the first move of the ultimate strategy of redemption. It was Operation Incarnation. The birth only sets up the theater of operations for Operation Resurrection, which deals the death stroke to death itself. Revolutionary stuff. Revolutions inevitably involve the breaking of things and the overturning of apple carts. That's what the cooing baby was born to do.

Like I said, dangerous.

But it's a revolution of restoration. His breaking is fixing. His overturning is uprighting. It's no less disruptive, but when you disrupt chaos, what do you get? Peace. When you reverse suffering and sorrow, what are you left with? Joy.

So whenever you look at that baby in the manger, hang on. It may look quiet, but he's a ticking time bomb that will blow everything to heaven.

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