For me, the season of Advent expectation this year comes hot on the heels of a new arrival within my own family – the birth of our own firstborn, our daughter Tehillah (‘Tilly’), in late August. Her entrance was extremely well-timed, both from my perspective as an academic (I emerged bleary-eyed from paternity leave just in time to welcome the incoming first-years at university), and from my wife’s as a minister at our church: Tilly was an ideal age to play the starring role of Jesus in the immersive nativity scene that we ran for local schools in early December, charming children and adults alike from the warmth of her own blanket-swaddled manger. (Don’t worry – she had regular feeding breaks, and the cows and sheep were all made of cardboard). For many who visited the scene, especially adults, the sight of a living, breathing, all-too-human baby in the manger was profoundly affecting, cutting across some of the disembodied or depersonalised images that can easily creep into our carols or Christmas-card imagery.
For me, it brought to mind one of my all-time favourite passages of Christology, from the writer to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.(Hebrews 4:14–16)
This passage is at the heart of why I follow Jesus. It tells us that God, who in his holiness and majesty did not need to involve himself with us in any way, nonetheless chose to humble himself – to debase himself! – by entering our grimy, grief-stricken reality and experiencing all the everyday joys, pains and deprivations that we are subject to. Jesus willingly took upon himself all the realities of a newborn child – hunger, sleeplessness, wet nappies (or their first-century equivalent!), colic. For several months, our Saviour was unable to support the weight of his own head; unable to regulate his own body temperature; unable to see in colour or control the movements of his limbs. He was utterly dependent on the love and protection of his parents, who were themselves forced to navigate the daily indignities of an oppressive regime and the murderous designs of the tyrant who oversaw it.
As Jesus matured slowly into adulthood, growing ‘in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man’, as Luke 2:52 puts it, he remained a man, subject to the same experiences that we live with day by day. He experienced the joy of friendship, of good food or nature, and he suffered the pains of bereavement, of rejection, of injustice and mistreatment. And yet in the midst of it all he remained fully God: sinless, infinitely wise, perfect in his judgements and utterly compassionate. As we look to him as our mediator and great High Priest, then, we can be confident that in Jesus we find someone who understands everything that we are going through. There is no situation we can bring to Jesus that is beyond his experience or wisdom. Whatever we face, we can place it in his hands and know that we will find both compassion and authority as he intercedes for us before God our Father.
May this truth be a comfort and an encouragement as we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, looking around us at a world that needs this truth more than ever. God chose to enter into our broken world, to draw its injustice and hatred and suffering upon himself, and thus to set us free from them forever. The baby in the manger became the man on the cross. Praise Him.