God’s not allowed to be a baby. That was the thought that scandalized 5th century Archbishop Nestorius of Constantinople. How can God have a mother? How can an unwed teenage girl be given the title “God-bearer”? It’s not so much a question of whether God can perform miracles like the virgin birth. The scandal is for the omnipotent, ineffable creator of the universe to become someone who cries and pees and poops all over himself. Nestorius decided that the baby Jesus must have been born human and then became divine after being assumed by the eternal Word of God. Though Nestorius was condemned as a heretic, I wonder how many of us engage in our own subtle Nestorianisms in how we think about Christmas.
It seems like a Nestorian impulse for instance to turn the stable of Jesus’ birth into Norman Rockwell painting in which “the cattle are lowing and the baby awakes,” but the “little Lord Jesus” doesn’t cry since He’s not really a fully human baby. Bethlehem becomes a “little town” which sleeps idyllically rather than an occupied territory of the Roman Empire whose male toddlers will soon be slaughtered by a ruthless puppet king (Matthew 2). Or maybe we make Mary into a forty year old Italian lady with blonde hair and blue eyes and a perfectly serene expression on her face rather than the feisty 14 year old Jewish kid who sang about the mighty being pulled down from their thrones and the rich being sent away empty. Or maybe we just change the subject and say well yeah I guess he was a baby but what’s relevant is what happened on the cross.
The way that God evades being reduced to the self-validating talisman of the rich and powerful is by becoming a baby. As an abstraction, God is much easier to control and use. The more “sovereign” your God is, the bigger an empire He is able to justify. The God who sleeps in the arms of a poor Jewish teenage mother escapes the clutches of those who want to declare wars on His behalf. The paradox is that God makes Himself more sovereign by breaking the rules of classical theism with the messy mystery of His incarnation. So let God be a baby today, and maybe He’ll make you humble enough to walk into a smelly stable and kneel before a manger.