Last week, an unknown man wearing a gray collared, long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans stole the baby Jesus figure from the nativity scene at Sundance Square in Ft. Worth, Texas. Now the police have announced that they have the figure in their custody and will return it to its rightful place. However, no arrests in the theft have been made. Police released a video of the man and asked anyone who recognizes him to contact them.
The story raises a plethora of questions in my mind.
Why would someone steal a figure of the baby Jesus? I cannot imagine there is much of a market for reselling it—how many nativity scenes are missing one? Who would want to display such a figure by itself?
I also want to know how the police reacquired the object. If the thief returned it, why do they not know his identity? Did he repent of his crime and bring it back anonymously? Perhaps not: the authorities are still pursuing him, which might indicate that they are less than impressed with what they know of his character.
And why is the theft of such an object a subject for national news? There are 2.5 million burglaries annually in the US; a home burglary occurs every fifteen seconds. You can buy a baby Jesus figure large enough to use in a Nativity display for $49.99 on Amazon. And yet this story about a figure of Jesus made headlines, perhaps illustrating our “God-shaped emptiness” at work.
There’s a larger question behind these questions about the theft of the “baby Jesus”: Why did Jesus come into the world as a baby?
My response illustrates the relevance of Christmas for every soul twenty centuries after the miracle in the manger we celebrate this Sunday.
The only baby who chose to become a baby
If I asked you why Jesus came to our world, you would reply that he came to die for our sins. And you would be right, of course (cf. Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8). Three chapters in the Gospel of Matthew, three in Mark, three in Luke, and six in John are devoted to the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ earthly life.
Why, then, did he not come into our world as an adult?
His divine omnipotence would enable him to enter humanity in any way he wished. For example, when he comes back, he will be not a baby but the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). He was the only baby in human history who chose to become a baby.
Jesus died for our sins as an adult. He did nearly everything we know of his earthly life as an adult: healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water, and calming storms. In fact, except for one episode when he was twelve (Luke 2:41–51), we have nothing in the gospels about Jesus’ life from his birth to the beginning of his adult ministry.
If he did nothing else as a baby, child, or teenager that needed to be recorded in Scripture, why did he come as a baby who then experienced life as a child and a teenager before becoming an adult? Why did he not simply appear as the adult we see in his earthly ministry?
The only One who knows how you feel
Here’s one answer: our Lord wanted to experience everything we experience.
Because of the way he was “incarnated” (from the Latin incarna tus, “to be made flesh”), Jesus experienced life as a helpless baby, an awkward toddler, a questioning adolescent (cf. Luke 2:46), and an adult (Luke 3:23).
He ran the full gamut of our humanity:
- He was tired (John 4:6),
- thirsty (John 19:28),
- grieved (John 11:35),
- angry (Mark 3:5),
- and “sorrowful and troubled” (Matthew 26:37).
He was fully human as well as fully divine, so that he “has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He experienced the worst form of torture ever devised when he was crucified.
As a result, he knows all that you know and feels all that you feel.
I was warned in a seminary counseling class never to say to someone, “I know how you feel.” The professor explained that even if our experiences are similar to someone else’s challenges, we cannot know how they are feeling about them.
But Jesus does.
You are in his hand right now (John 10:28), which means that nothing can come to you without coming first through him. He not only understands us—he can redeem us. He can change our sinful heart (Matthew 15:19–20) into a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and cause us to be “born again” (John 3:3) as the “children of God” (John 1:12).
“Every place you live will be a Bethlehem”
The One who was born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary understands us and redeems us. But there’s more: he wants to make us like himself “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). As C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity: “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”
St. Irenaeus similarly observed, “He became what we are so that we might become what he is.” In Against Heresies, he explained that God wants man to “take on the likeness of the one who died for him.” As a result, Jesus came at Christmas “to invite man to take on his likeness, appointing man an imitator of God, establishing man in a way of life in obedience to the Father that would lead to the vision of God.”
Let’s celebrate Christmas every day by praying every day for God’s Spirit to make us more like God’s Son. Then let’s join the Spirit in his sanctifying work by submitting every day to him (Ephesians 5:18) and then “speaking the truth in love” wherever we can (Ephesians 4:15).
This is how changed people change the world. It is how we become catalysts for spiritual awakening where we live with those we know.
Max Lucado noted, “Christ grew in Mary until he had to come out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be a Bethlehem. Every day you live will be a Christmas. Deliver Christ into the world, your world.”
Will your life be a Bethlehem today?