Many years ago, I noticed one of our kids (an infant/toddler at the time) playing with his bellybutton, and I had a bit of an odd thought. Everyone, it occurred to me, has a bellybutton; the greatest and the lowliest, the most beautiful and intelligent, and the least. And what does it mean? That each of us was borne in his mother’s womb, at the most basic, earthy level, and you can take it from there. Each of us was an infant with shitty diapers; each of us was a snot-nosed kid, and so on. . . If we’re fortunate, each of us will grow old and wrinkled and gray-haired. Funny to think about supermodels with snotty noses; or gray hair and wrinkles, for that matter. Funny to think of Einstein with shitty diapers, but it’s true – every human being who ever lived had a bellybutton – was born of a woman. Human life has a few constant parameters, not all of them glorious; and bellybuttons are one of them.
Given the season, it’s real appropriate to observe that even God Himself was born of a woman. As sloppy and messy as human life can be, it wasn’t too gross a thing for God to be born of a woman and share human life with us. Peter Kreeft has said that the Incarnation means that God stepped in our manure (because Peter Kreeft is not quite so rude-and-crude as I am).
And in the previous context, the Incarnation comes to seem all the more amazing. Supermodels and Einstein are funny to think about, but. . . God Himself? A little baby. . . shitty diapers and snotty nose. . . God?! And that, at the most fundamental level, is the wonder of it. . .
“For we do not have a Redeemer who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but one who has experienced life as we have. . .” (Hebrews 4:15, roughly; call it the DJV – Desmond Jones Version)
For the past few years, to mark the seasons of Advent/Christmas, our community has put on a show (shamelessly stolen from something someone heard on PBS) called, ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ – nine Christmas-themed Scripture readings, each one paired with a corresponding Christmas carol. It’s really a pretty cool idea.
This year, our family (‘The von Jones Family Singers’) sang What Child Is This?, to go along with Luke 2:1-7 on ‘The Birth of Christ’.
I have always been struck by the second chorus of this song: “Nails, spear, shall peirce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you”, and the idea it expresses that, whatever else might be the case, the Incarnation is ultimately directed toward the Cross.
The Word became flesh, not merely to show us a human life lived as it was meant to be lived, but, ultimately, for the Perfect Sacrifice of ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. So, even amidst the joy of the Incarnation – the angelic choirs, the Child in the manger, and all that – there is the sorrow and suffering of the Cross. The two are not separable. The Cross – the Sacrificial Atonement – is the larger part of the significance of the Incarnation. And without the Cross and Resurrection, there is no Christianity.
And, one wonders about Mary. At what point was she aware that Jesus, the Incarnate Word to whom she gave humanity, the child of her own womb, was also the Sacrifice Lamb? When did the sorrow temper her joy? When did she realize that “the Son of Man must lay down His life as a ransom for many”? Was it revealed to her before she said her momentous “Yes” to God? If so, all the more amazing that she said “Yes” even still. And even if not, isn’t it just Human in some archetypal way – her own joy at giving birth to the Incarnate Word is not untempered by the sorrow of the Cross? That’s just the way it is for us humans, and Mary is nothing if not human. . .