Among the inherent problems of this season of the year is the distinct impression that Jesus is a mere baby lying in a manger – to all intents and purposes helpless and dependent. Cute and cuddly, no doubt! But is such a child to be feared? Obeyed? Worshiped? It is not surprising that our Christ-hating culture can tolerate Jesus as a baby in a manger – such an image threatens no one and hardly challenges man’s autonomy.
Although it is true that Jesus once was a baby lying in a manger, He is so no more. Neither is He still the sufferer hanging on the cross. That, too, is long over. Where is He now? Ascended to heaven, He sits at the right hand of God, waiting till all His enemies are made a footstool under His feet. Right now He is the risen, victorious, ascended King of Glory – the Ruler of the kings of the earth.
But even back in Bethlehem, Jesus was far from a helpless little baby child. This point is powerfully brought out by a very old writer. St. Athanasius, writing some 1700 years ago, penned an excellent book entitled “On the Incarnation of the Son of God.” In this eminently readable piece of theology, Athanasius argues thus:
“The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might. No. The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father. As with the whole, so also is it with the part. Existing in a human body, to which He Himself gives life, He is still Source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole; and He is revealed both through the works of His body and through His activity in the world…”(Chapter 3, Par.17)
What Athanasius recognized is that when God the Son took on human flesh to dwell among us, He did not cease for a second to be truly and fully God. As fully God, He retained His divine attributes while He set aside His heavenly glory to be clothed in our flesh. So while He was a little baby, He was also directing the entire universe by His mind and might.
Athanasius continues, “His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time—this is the wonder—as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things their being and sustains them in it.”
This is a far different Jesus from that of the popular seasonal imagination. This is a Divine Being to be reverenced and adored. This is One before whom angels hide their faces and cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” This is the God who gives life to whom He pleases! This is the Jesus of the Bible, who controlled winds and waves, and who raised the dead to life. Blessed be His glorious name!