Thursday, 10 December 2009

Unlikely Hero: a baby

UNLIKELY HEROES

Today we look at an unlikely hero: a baby

Now I realise that babies are astonishingly special

I did get in big trouble one Christmas time, many years ago, when I described a new born baby as looking like a shrunken Buddha.

And one of the ways our society deals with Christmas is to strip the story of any reference to God, and simply focus on children. Christmas is for children:

Take nativity plays. Don’t get me wrong. I love nativity plays. One of the problems of the three tier school system is that they don’t do nativity plays in Middle schools. So age 8 is the last time our children will do a nativity play

But, you have to be honest and admit that the plot line for most nativity plays is pretty thin. ‘Yes’, says the producer, “Let’s go through the story. Mum is pregnant and riding on a donkey. Dad – well we’re not sure he is dad, but the less said about that, the better – leading the donkey. They get to the place where they’re going and can’t find anywhere for the girl to have her baby; and then an innkeeper says that she can have the baby in a barn at the back. Then some shepherds and some men dressed in funny clothes come and visit her. Yes? And what else? There is a special star, good. And angels, good. But is that all? And there is something about a special star. Is that it?’ Good for a few headlines, ‘Baby born in a barn’, good for a bit of dressing up. But is that all?”

And nativity plays often end up with some little moral tale about children being little angels and stars and that they are our future.

So are we really saying that Christmas is all about children – about the joy and the hope that they can bring. Listen to this. It will either make you weak at the knees or else seriously sick.

‘When a child is born’. Is that Christian?

A ray of hope flickers in the sky
A tiny star lights up way up high
All across the land, dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born

A silent wish sails the seven seas
The winds of change whisper in the trees
And the walls of doubt crumble, tossed and torn
This comes to pass when a child is born

A rosy hue settles all around
You've got the feel you're on solid ground
For a spell or two, no-one seems forlorn
This comes to pass when a child is born

And all of this happens because the world is waiting
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no-one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter
Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone's neighbour
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever

It's all a dream, an illusion now
It must come true, sometime soon somehow
All across the land, dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born

The unlikely hero is not just any baby. The unlikely hero is a very specific baby.

The real story is far more gritty and far more awesome. It involves high personal risk for Mary and for Joseph and for the baby; it involves paranoid political rulers; and this part of the story ends with the family fleeing from infant genocide. And at its centre is a specific child.

He is the baby who was born in Bethlehem when Quirinius was governor of Syria, who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. (Luke 2:1-7)

And the reason that this particular baby is THE hero is because this particular baby was the Son of God. He was the unique, eternal child of God. He has always been there with God. He was there in the beginning of time with God. It was his word that created the universe. It is his word that sustains the universe. It will be his word that brings the universe as we know it to an end.

Augustine said,
Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains,
From his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at his mother's bosom.

What is astonishing is that the Son of God becomes a human being, and not just a human being, but a human baby: totally helpless, totally defenceless, totally dependent

God could have come as an adult, and still died for us. It happened on several occasions in the Old Testament.
Melchizedek: ‘He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever’
The angel who wrestles with Jacob
The person who appears to Joshua
Suddenly, God appears. Superman comes – with no origins, no family history. He is who he is. Indeed the Christian hope is that one day something like that will happen.

But the awesome thing is not just that ‘the word was made flesh’, but that God was born as a baby. He became fully human.
God’s messengers in the OT often come as awesome figures
God himself comes as a human baby

So what is going on here?

1. The Son of God was born as a human baby in order to fulfil prophecy and show that God is faithful.

In Isaiah 7:14, Ahaz is given a sign. It is a sign he has not asked for. It is a sign he has not deserved. But the sign will be that ‘a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’.

Micah confirms that prophecy: ‘But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who in labour has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel’ (Micah 5:2-3)

And the one who is to come is described not only as the Son of God, but also as the Son of David. That is why we have all those long genealogies in the bible. It matters. God gave a promise to David that one of his descendants would be THE ruler of Israel, the Messiah, the one who would establish God’s Kingdom here in a new heaven and a new earth.


2. The Son of God was born as a baby in order to identify himself with us

He became as one of us. And because of that:

a) We know he knows. He grew up as one of us. He was dependent on his parents. He had brothers and sisters. He experienced body changes and all the hormonal stuff that teenagers go through. He shared our human desires. He knew tiredness, hunger, thirst. He experienced joy, grief, satisfaction, disappointment, the love of others, the hatred of others. He faced death. He was, as the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘tempted like us’.

And yet, through it all, he displayed absolute dependence on, obedience to, trust in and love for God his Father in heaven. That is way he was sinless.

b) He identified himself fully with us in our humanity, so that we might become like him in his divinity, become like him in his nature and in his love.

Galatians 4:4-7

He redeemed us so that we might become like him: so that we might be adopted as sons and daughters of God, so that the Spirit of God can live in us, so that we become heirs of God.

Irenaeus first said: ‘The Son of God became a human being, so that human beings could become Sons of God’

3. The Son of God was born as a baby in order to show us the way of God

God saves the world by sending a baby.

A baby, by human standard, may be a promise of something future, but at the time it is powerless, weak and has no wisdom.

The key thing here, as with all these unlikely heroes, is that God saves us not through that which is, by human standards, strong and wise, but through that which is, humanly speaking, weak and foolish.

[Jacob; Joseph in prison; slave people; Moses; Rahab; Gideon; Ruth; Saul (he only started to go wrong when he began to think he was someone); David]

The way of God is not the way of human power and wisdom. It is the way of love, of stripping oneself of power, of giving up rights, of identifying with others in their weakness and vulnerability, in order to enable them to have LIFE in God. The Christian life never consists in standing over another person. It consists of kneeling down before them and washing their feet.

It is Philippians 2:5-7


4. The Son of God was born as a baby to show us the wisdom of God.

We need to recognise that God, as a baby, is more powerful and worthy of worship than the greatest human ruler. The ‘foolishness’ of God is greater than the most profound depths of any human wisdom.

And that is so important because it tells us that our salvation depends upon God, totally and completely. I have no resources in myself.

This is so alien to our world. I’ve been struck by how many times I have heard people say, ‘You’ve got to look to the strength that is in you – for achieving your dream, improving yourself, getting what you want out of life, finding peace. Well, I guess at one level it is true. But when we look deeper it is profoundly untrue.

Before God, I have no resources in me. I cannot save myself. Salvation (and by that I don’t simply mean getting into heaven, but ‘salvation’ as the bible uses the word in its fullest richest sense, becoming fully like Jesus Christ the Son of God) depends not on my gifts, or strengths or ability, but completely on him.

This does involve a swallowing of pride, but it is also incredibly liberating, and extraordinarily democratic. You do not need to somehow make yourself acceptable to God. It is not about how gifted or good or clever you are. You do not even need to understand it. This is open to everyone – to the Einstein or to the person with severe learning special needs.

All we need to do is, with the wise men, kneel before a human baby who is also the Son of God.


So the unlikely hero is not just any baby. The unlikely hero is the Son of God who became a human baby, and who was wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger.
We fast forward 33 years, and we find that baby again being wrapped in cloth and laid in a tomb. The words that Luke uses in 23:53 are almost identical to the words used in 2:7 – and the point is the same

Jesus died on the cross to fulfil scripture
Jesus died in order to identify himself with us. He took onto himself our curse so that we might take onto ourselves his righteousness
Jesus died in order to show us the way of God – the way of love and self-sacrifice
Jesus died in order to show us the wisdom of God – that our salvation does not depend on us, but on him.

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