In those first speechless moments, new parents gaze with fascination. They lovingly examine every inch of their newborn child's face.
No matter how we prepare ourselves, the reality of new birth astounds us. Here, nestled in our arms, is a brand-new member of the human race. Here is the future in flesh; our legacy to the world. We check eyes, mouth, ears for telltale family resemblances; we marvel at the delicate pink skin. Most of all, we silently thank the Lord over and over for a gift so unimaginably wonderful.
Can you imagine how intently Joseph and Mary must have studied the Child who came to them in Bethlehem? His coming had been foretold not by physicians but by angels. If those angels were right - and how could they not be? - here in the starlight was a Messiah who had been the subject of poems, songs, and dreams for a thousand years. Messiah: Perhaps the couple stammered when they tried to speak the M-word aloud. It was just so hard to imagine such a magnificent personification when they looked at the sleeping infant.
After all, everyone knew (or thought they knew) that the Messiah would be the ultimate military commander. He would arrive on horseback, with sword held high, crying out for vengeance and redemption in the name of the Lord and his favored nation. The Chosen One would have the wisdom of Solomon, the charisma of David, the godliness of Moses, and the military genius of Joshua.
Yet here was a baby - just a baby. Joseph and Mary had to admit that here was a baby who seemed, at first glance, like any other newborn child. He cried in the middle of the night. He hungered for milk. He needed fresh "swaddling clothes" every now and then. If this was just an ordinary child like cousin Elizabeth's new addition, how could he be "one whose origins are from the deep past," as the prophet had insisted? How could an infant be the Son of God?
Or for that matter, why would the Son of God be an infant? The need of crumbling, dying Israel was urgent. First the Greek and now the Roman influence was wiping away a bit more of the legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each day.
Why, indeed? Why did Jesus come as a child?
Jesus is the One like no other, for he was fully human and fully divine - simultaneously. Nothing about his humanity could detract from his godliness; nothing about his godliness could detract from his humanity. Only because this is true can he reconcile the Father in heaven with his children on earth. He is the Man of both worlds; he is the bridge by which God comes to earth and people come to heaven.
In that regard, we have seen that the Virgin Birth is the sign of his divinity. He comes to the earth from outside, pure and clean, and he is in no way a product of this world. Now we see that, in the same way, the infancy of the Child is the sign of his humanity. He is one of us in every way. He arrives from heaven with perfection and godliness of which no man or woman is capable - yet he takes the full human journey, which even God in heaven had not taken. How could we follow his footsteps as a man if we hadn't seen him crawl as a child? How could we believe he had undergone all the temptation we have faced if he had bypassed the most difficult years in which we struggle to earn our adulthood?
To make the full sacrifice on our behalf, Jesus had to make the full commitment. It would have meant very little to us if he had sprung from heaven fully formed, bathed in heavenly glory, saying, "Here are my hands and my feet - place me upon the cross, for I am willing to die."
Instead, we see him as a child in a manger. We see him at the Temple as a boy on the verge of maturity, already about his Father's business. We see Mary and Joseph wondering at him, trying to understand, as he grew "in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people" (Luke 2:52).
Finally, we see him as a young man, quietly beginning a ministry that will change all of human history. We overhear the whispers from his neighbors: "He's just a carpenter's son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers - James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us" (Matthew 13:55-56).
We see him in the desert, wrestling with temptation and the matter of his destiny, and we know he is fully human. We see his love for children, and we can believe it because he, too, has been a child. And then, when those crude spikes are drilled through his wrists and his ankles, we know he feels the pain that any man would feel. We know the price of our sins is on the table, being paid in full with no credit plans or easy payment schedules, but by every last drop of blood and every brutal slash of the whip. We are bought with a price that could never have been paid without the full burden of humanity having been accepted.
If he had been God only, his sacrifice would have been cheap and unconvincing. If he had been man only, his sacrifice would have had no power; he would have been a martyr like ten thousand others.
But he was man and he was God, and therefore he was all in all. He came as a child to confront and conquer every challenge and every temptation common to humanity. We trust him with our lives because he was God. We love him with our hearts because we know that once he was a tiny baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Why are most of us fascinated with a newborn baby?
Does it seem important to you that Jesus lived life on earth as a human? Why or why not?
For further study: Read Hebrews 2:16-18. How can we take comfort from Jesus' coming as a baby?