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Baby Jesus and freedom from fear

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 07, 2011

During this Christmas season I have been thinking quite a bit about babies. Not only because we’re celebrating the birth of the Christ Child (and that celebration isn’t over until Sunday; don’t stint!), but also because of the birth of my first grandchild on the day after Christmas.

The birth of a child is always a wonderful event: exhilarating even for those who are not directly involved. We all feel that strong natural urge to hug the little baby, to smile and coo, to congratulate the new parents. The whole world loves a newborn baby. (By the way, this makes it all the more astonishing that the modern world devotes so much effort to preventing births.) By coming among us as an infant, Jesus made it much easier for us to love Him. This is a lesson we learn anew every Christmas.

There’s something else about a newborn child. It is impossible for a rational person to fear an infant. I say a “rational person,” because some people manage it. King Herod, irrationally concerned about his own power, saw a tiny baby as a threat. Millions of young American couples, irrationally concerned about their comfort and security, make the same deadly mistake. 

But rational people realize that a baby cannot even care for his own basic needs, let alone pose threats to anyone else. Babies are by nature innocent. They are not scheming against their neighbors. They are incapable of deception. They could not threaten us, even if they wanted do—and they don’t want to.

And this is how the Almighty chose to come among us: as a baby, whom we could not rationally fear. Jesus the baby is the incarnate reminder that God is Love. Men could fear the wrath of a distant God, but the little child in the manger sends us quite a different message. God has no wish to show his wrath; he only wants to show his love-- and to prompt our love for Him in return.

Jesus the baby is helpless: utterly dependent on his mother and St. Joseph. Jesus the little boy is not quite so helpless but still dependent. The Gospel tells us very little about the childhood of Jesus, and the liturgical calendar of the Church rushes in a week from the baby, visited by the Magi, to the adult, baptized in the Jordan. No doubt it is wise to pass quickly over those childhood years, because if we knew the little boy, we might forget that He is the Almighty. The people of Nazareth never noticed, it seems, and later could not understand all the fuss about “the carpenter’s son.” Young Jesus lived among them for years, and they evidently saw just another boy growing up in the neighborhood.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and it is dangerous to feel even a twinge of contempt toward the Incarnate God. Yet Jesus willingly took that risk. We don’t know about all the scraped knees and spilled meals, but if Jesus was an ordinary red-blooded boy—and He was—we know that they happened. He was vulnerable. He was subject to human limitations (if not human faults). He learned to walk and talk, just the same way we all did. He was just like us. Not a detached God masquerading as a human, like the gods of Greek mythology, but a fully human being, thoroughly immersed in the day-to-day affairs of ordinary human life.

At times, especially when we fall into sin, we are tempted to fear God—just as children fear the anger of a father whom they have provoked. Fathers can be frightening to little children, and despite all the lessons of the Old Testament, all the times that God showed people of Israel his mercy, we still tend to forget that God the Father wants to forgive us, wants to welcome us back into his loving embrace. But then we see the baby Jesus and the message is unmistakable. He is one of us: a full partner in the human enterprise. 

And much more than a partner, of course. On the Cross, the adult Jesus redeemed us from our sins. But the process began with his birth, when the little baby Jesus freed us from our fear. 

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