Dear Lord Baby Jesus
As we journey further into the season of Advent, we need to learn how to lean into our expectations and hopes for Christmas to discover something significant about our faith.
Most of us find that the holidays can be complicated, despite our best efforts to keep them simple. There are demands on our time, demands to find the "perfect" gift, demands to create meaningful and magical gatherings, and scores of other impossible tasks.
And then, as if that wasn't enough, we often over-sentimentalize the meaning of the season itself, doing our best to tap into nostalgia and recreate moments of happier times, peaceful seasons, and the like.
This isn't to say that it doesn't work occasionally. More often than not, however, our efforts to recapture an idealized past fall short, leaving us empty.
One of the many things we tend to over-sentimentalize to our detriment is the actual Nativity itself. We focus on the birth of a baby and the bucolic setting of a stable surrounded by animals and visited by shepherds and wise men.
It's easy to adore a baby. Thinking about grown-up Jesus and the demands of following his example is not as warm and fuzzy during Christmas.
In the comedy Talladega Nights, Will Ferrel's character Ricky Bobby says grace over a meal and repeats "Dear Lord Baby Jesus" as he begins. His wife stops him, and this ensues:
[Carley] 'Hey, um... you know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don't always have to call him baby. It's a bit odd and off puttin' to pray to a baby.'
[Ricky] 'Well, look, I like the Christmas Jesus best when I'm sayin' grace. When you say grace, you can say it to Grown-up Jesus, or Teenage Jesus, or Bearded Jesus, or whoever you want.'
Then Ricky Bobby continues:
[Ricky] 'Dear Tiny Jesus, in your golden fleece diapers with your tiny, little fat balled up fists...
Not surprisingly, it goes even further south, but I digress.
If you walk around my house this time of year, you will be amazed at how many nativity sets we have and the creative places we've put them. We even have one in the downstairs bathroom.
In every one of those nativities, the various figures crowd around a manger in adoration of a tiny baby---a baby that Christians know as Jesus, the Christ, the second "person" of the Trinity, the Messiah, the eternal Word of God.
This belief often gets short shrift at Christmas because we enjoy the sentimentality of a "Christmas Jesus."
I recently read a wonderful quote from Fr. Richard Rohr in his Advent devotional Preparing for Christmas:
The celebration of Christmas is not a sentimental waiting for a baby to be born, but much more an asking for history to be born!
There is much more at stake than the birth of a baby as we journey through Advent to Christmas. However, I don't want to take away from the beauty of the moment.
Christians believe that the arrival of the Messiah in the form of a helpless human infant to refugee parents in a cave used for livestock is a fantastic sign and symbol of how far God is willing to go to save the world, and rightly so.
But there is more to the story. The moment of Jesus' birth is also a sign and symbol that human history was forever changed when God became one of us. This is what we long for after all is said and done.
We want the world to be made right.
We want to feel hope, peace, and joy.
We want to discover our purpose and become the best version of ourselves.
This is why over-sentimentalizing the Nativity can leave us stuck at times. We lower our expectations of what God becoming human was really all about. We feel more comfortable with an image of Jesus we can manage.
In that same devotion from Fr. Richard, he goes on to add this:
God loves us as adult partners, with mutual give and take, and you eventually become the God that you love. Take that as an absolute.
Advent gives us a chance to exercise our faith and step boldly into the history-changing moments God introduces into the world and into us. There is tenderness and wonder in the Nativity. We must always keep that.
But we need a grown-up faith that isn't perpetually beside the manger. Our grown-up faith will help us through times of trial and challenge.
Our grown-up faith will be grounded in a relationship with the Divine and the trust that comes from walking through the dark valleys, knowing that God's light will find us and lead us forward.
May you find wonder and joy during this Advent and at Christmas. May you also know that the child of the Nativity is also the One who one day took on the worst the world had to offer to show us the width and depth of God's love.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.