The Christmas story is truly miraculous. So miraculous that we spend the whole Advent season marvelling at its reality. We ponder the accounts of lowly shepherds, wise magi, a young first-time mother and her humble husband. Angels come in glory and in dreams, a new star shines over the little town of Bethlehem and a manger is surrounded by worship. Extraordinary.
But amidst the miraculous, divine and extraordinary elements of the Christmas story, there is equally the simple, small and ordinary. Humanity is intrinsic to the story of God with us. This Christmas, as you ponder the wonderous story of our God who came to us, pause and consider this truth: the baby in the manger is both divine and human.
Look at the Christmas story from this vantage point—from the stench of the manger, the dust of the earth, the exhausted postpartum mother, the ruddiness of a newborn’s skin, the wail of hunger breaking a silent night—and you will experience the hope, peace, joy and love of Advent in a completely new way. Suddenly, the Christmas story is nearer to us than we ever imagined.
Jesus took on the vulnerability of humanity when He came to us. He took on hunger and thirst, pain and weakness, suffering and poverty. When we look around the world today, we see such great need related to all these elements of being human.
But that’s not all. Jesus didn’t simply come to us as a grown human with all the needs inherent to our humanity. Jesus came as a baby. An omniscient God, who has perfect knowledge of all things, willingly came as a child, the most vulnerable among us. He determined it best to experience this broken world as a child, knowing that identifying with the fragility of children was essential to His plan of redemption for humanity.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.”
– Hebrews 4:15
Jesus experienced poverty.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Jesus experienced poverty in His childhood, just like one out of five children who live in extreme poverty today (UN).
Jesus experienced the vulnerability of infanthood.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
Jesus experienced the fragility of the critical first 28 days of His life, a vulnerability that poses the greatest risk of death for children. Neonatal conditions are the leading cause of death in low-income countries (WHO).
Jesus experienced hunger.
“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.” (Mark 11:12)
Jesus experienced hunger during His life, and the need for nourishing food was something He understood well. He understands the experience of the 828 million people who will go to bed hungry tonight (FAO) and the more than 350 million children who face hunger every day (WFP).
Jesus experienced homelessness.
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
Jesus experienced instability throughout His life. He was born in a manger because there was no room available for Him in Bethlehem. He was displaced by a violent ruler and fled to Egypt. He had no permanent home in His adulthood. Jesus knew what it meant to live without security, just like the 50 million refugee or migrant children in our world today (UNICEF).
Jesus experienced suffering.
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” (Hebrews 5:7-8).
Jesus knew what it meant to suffer. He experienced physical pain, socioemotional rejection, grief and spiritual anguish. He can relate to the experiences of children as they face the grief, disappointment, abuse and darkness of our broken world.
We often approach the Christmas story looking at the dramatic and glorious elements that point to a baby who was born king. God in the highest becomes a small baby in the lowliest manger. We view the baby as divine first, as we should! However, an equally precious part of the Christmas story is that the baby in the manger was a human child.
Emmanuel means God with us. But the incredible truth of Christmas is that God with us means that He chose to identify with our humanity in the most vulnerable way. Jesus draws us near to the heart of God through the Christmas story and implores us not to sanitize the need, suffering, pain and fragility of others. He calls us to consider humanity and beckons us to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”