Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NASB)
My thoughts are full of babies these days. My grandkids, ages 1 and 3. Isaac baptized and Joshua and Sol-Nicole dedicated before us all. And my baby bumpkin boy, now 36, is coming home for Christmas. I can kind-of picture Jesus as a baby in this august company. Human, baby, got it.
But, whoa. “There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord… a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11,12 NASB). As soon as I join divinity, Savior and Lord to the body of a baby, I lose it.
That may well be the point. An impossibility shows God’s love to the mere humans who have no way of understanding it.
A couple of fancy words represent two faces of this impossible babyhood for me: restriction and restraint. These are my definitions, not Webster’s. Restriction means limits applied from outside and restraint means limits applied from inside by the will.
First, the idea of restriction. In the Christmas story, those adult things of saving and ruling have to wait for a baby to grow up. All the phases of childhood – sitting up, crawling, eating solid food, walking, potty training, listening, talking, school and on – have to happen first. The thoughts in the mind of God are restricted to one human baby mind, developing as the years roll by in the slow, painstaking process of human learning.
What is this restriction telling us?
God doesn’t object to limitation. He’s not bothered by waiting for things to happen or impatient to get on to the “really important” stuff. God considers growth and learning important. He must even consider childhood important. After all, He invites us to be children again in entering the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).
Also God restricts Himself so we’ll feel how deeply He understands us. We can’t do all the things we dream of. We can’t even do all the things on our to-do lists. Restrictions abound. Physical and mental characteristics, temperament, circumstances, and consequences of decisions all restrict and often frustrate us with might-have-beens and never-will-bes. God deeply understands this and loves us so much that He shows us He understands us by entering human life as a baby.
Second, the idea of restraint. Having become human, God restrains Himself to grow up in a human family and society, obeying his own sinful parents. After being found in the temple, left behind at age 12, he continued subjecting himself to his parents, Luke tells us (Luke 2:51). Early on, he must have known he was far superior to his parents and yet, deferred to their authority.
Pastor Mark referenced Isaiah 11:2 in his sermon Sunday, telling us that the “fear of the Lord” will rest on Jesus and He will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” As Pastor Mark said, this kind of fear shows up in obedience, as Joseph obeyed God in marrying Mary and then abstaining from sex until Jesus was born. We read in Hebrews that “Jesus was tempted in all things as we are” (Hebrews 4:15) and “He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). “Fear of the Lord” was worked out in Jesus’ life through restriction to human childhood and restraint in subjection to sinful parents, society, religious leaders, and even deep suffering. Jesus went so far as to delight in it because He loves the Father and because He loves us.
I look to the Christmas baby and see a God who understands my struggles and calls me to obey. He offers mercy and grace every hour of every day, and invites me to draw near and find it. Merry Christmas!
Jani can be reached by email here.