Let God be a baby

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.

5 thoughts on “Let God be a baby

  1. “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 “

    I wasn’t aware the Bible ever mentioned her age or hair color, or level of feistyness. My mother would be deeply offended at any suggestion that God knocked up a teenager. I guess that must be why Matthew and Luke left out that part. Seriously, though, its obvious that Mary is not a teenager because there is no mention of HER PARENTS in the text anywhere. If we were dealing with a prego teen, there would have to be some parental drama in there. The assumption on your part must be that there’s no way she could have been older than 14 and been a virgin since girls in our society lose it or rather throw it away at 12, but back then it would have been possible…its possible today even, especially for fat girls…and the Bible doesn’t mention Mary’s weight either. Anyway, my point in all of this is this: There is drama about Joseph contemplating putting her away but no drama about her parents, proving to me that she is at least 20, and her parents are probably dead.

    • In the 1st century levant, it was common for women to be married and have children at what we would today call a young age. Also, although today, the parents of a wife are often quite involved in her life, at that time, women “left their mother and father” with a greater permanence, owing both to custom, and the limitations of travel and circumstance.

      Also, I don’t believe that Morgan’s statements about Mary’s virginity argue from her age.

  2. Obviously, the problem people have with this is the same as the problem with the Trinity. If God is asleep in Mary’s womb, who is listening to all the prayers while he’s sleeping? Or while he’s still learning how to even understand one language who is listening to the prayers in all the languages? This is total nonsense to PURE MONOTHEISM. So obviously to Jews and Muslims, and Deists, its total nonsense. It requires a sort of polytheism. The doctrine of the Trinity splits God into three enabling him to be in heaven listening to prayers of all languages as the Father, while he is in Mary’s womb as a fetus totally ignorant of everything as the Son, and while the Holy Spirit is doing his thing whatever it might have been at that time. But if someone is not prepared to accept the doctrine of the Trinity (or outright polytheism which would work too), there’s no way they can accept that baby Jesus in Mary’s womb was God Incarnate.

    • Junly,

      God is the Father, together with His Word and Spirit. To say that it is not God acting when the Son and Word acts, is like saying that I am not acting to type this sentence, but merely my hands.

      Now, when God’s Word became incarnate, he was authentically circumscribed while remaining uncircumscribed. As God’s eternal Word, he sustained the universe; as a baby, he knew only the warmth of his mother. He did both contradictory things as one Subsistent Being, which is the paradox of the Incarnation.

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