Who’s Afraid of the Baby Jesus?

Content note: brief mentions of child abuse, Christian patriarchy, Sovereign Grace Ministries

I remember a sermon I heard during chapel at my old Christian college around Christmas time. The speaker lamented the tendency to focus on baby Jesus around Christmas time. He chalked this up to a desire to make God/Jesus safe and gentle and helpless, and he called for us to instead think of God as the victorious, conquering, badass king from Revelation.

This idea made a lot of sense to me at the time, with my worldview and theology being what it was back then. I couldn’t understand (and still don’t quite understand) why the fundamentalists and evangelicals I’d grown up with put so much emphasis on baby Jesus, while absolutely refusing to talk about God as helpless.

I tried so hard after hearing that sermon to view God, not as a gentle baby, but as a fierce, ambivalent* ruler–benevolent to those who stayed in their place, hostile to those who didn’t.

As my theology has changed and I’ve rejected the idea of the ambivalent ruler God, I find myself more and more drawn to the idea of God as a baby. As Abi says here:

A God…whose mother nursed him as a baby and comforted him when he was sick…An infant God wrapped in cloths because his tiny body was cold, swaddled tight to soothe his startle reflex.

I’m not drawn to this image of God because it’s “safe,” though. No. Not anymore. The image of God as a baby can fuck. shit. up.

The image of God as a baby doesn’t have to be one that makes God harmless and weak. In fact, in the gospel stories, the baby Jesus scared the shit out of powerful people.

I think the image of God in a baby’s flesh still does.

That’s why we either have to either draw people’s attention away from that image, as the speaker at my old college chapel did, or we have to sanitize the nativity by turning it into something cutesy.

This is from Precious Moments–I got this image from Amazon.com (click for link)

Why would a helpless baby scare people so much?

White supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy (as bell hooks calls it) wants us to worship a cisgender, adult man who reflects the “right” class and who holds institutional power. It wants us to worship this image so that when we encounter cisgender, adult men from the “right” class who hold institutional power in the world, we will be less likely to question their right to rule.

The image of God as a baby born to a poor family, from the “wrong” part of town, can challenge that.

Though not every baby is on a level playing field (there is certainly a world of power difference between Prince George and any baby I might one day have), children don’t exactly constitute a privileged class (though they may be born into privileged classes and reap benefits from that). As bell hooks states in Feminism is for Everybody (pg. 73):

 …ours is a culture that does not love children, that continues to see children as the property of parents to do with as they will. Adult violence against children is a norm in our society.

Children are not typically the image of power in our country (obviously there are some exceptions here). They are too often ignored, abused, spanked, and sexually assaulted (Here. In the United States), while many so-called social justice advocates turn their heads or make excuses.

Yet, according to the Christian narrative, God was a child. 

I believe in a God who is in solidarity with the oppressed, and I believe that God With Us is first and foremost God With The Oppressed. And the embodiment of God according to the Christian narrative begins in a baby.

“Take care that you do not despise these little ones…” 

I’ve written before about this idea of Jesus as one with the oppressed:

You look at the wounded. You see a bunch of people who are tired, and frustrated, and angry, and bleeding, and rejected by the church, and crying out for justice. Then you say you can’t see Jesus and I wonder, don’t you recognize him? He’s standing right in front of you.

Perhaps a line from that Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know”** can apply to all of those who have children, know children, or work with children: “When you kiss your precious baby, you kiss the face of God.” 

Furthermore, when you hit your child, you hit God. When you turn your face away from the injustices against children going on at Sovereign Grace Ministries, or in the Christian patriarchy movement, you turn your face away from God. When you treat your children as objects or as property, you are changing the truth of God into a lie–you are distorting Her image.

Baby Jesus isn’t just fodder for Sunday School plays and Precious Moments figurines. Baby Jesus means children are made in God’s image. Baby Jesus means “the last shall be first and the first, last.”

Baby Jesus means fuck the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. 

 

*Glick, Peter, and Susan Fiske. 1996 “The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70(3):491-512.

**Lyrics by Mark Lowry

  • Mz. D

    I survived my childhood routinely raped, mentally and physically abused, knowing my god was not an ambivalent god.
    I reached adulthood when I realized there was no god while I was pregnant with my daughter when I was 27.
    I knew within and without me I would never ever tell my child we all are born sinners including herself.

    At that moment I knew there was no god and there never was a god if that was the core message of the “one right” god.

    • Y. A. Warren

      But their is an Eternal Sacred Spirit manifest physically by you that you rescued from the hands of your abusers and are passing on to your sacred child.

      • Mz. D

        You certainly are free to accept supernatural entities for yourself.
        Be cautious attempting to force them on others.
        I find that reprehensible.
        It is a classic abuser tactic.

        • Y. A. Warren

          What!? Energy (spirit) is what is manifested in all physical matter. I’m sorry that I offended you by assuming that you and/or your child are sacred.

          • Mz. D

            Re: “What!? Energy (spirit) is what is manifested in all physical matter.”

            You are free to believe in such things, I find that to be childish thinking.

            My child and I are perfect, perfectly human and we have no need for abuser rhetoric ad infinitum ad nauseum.

          • sarahoverthemoon

            Yup, you can believe whatever you find empowering and affirming for you. I write about what I find liberating, but you are free to reject that. Y.A. Warren, please be more respectful of others’ beliefs.

          • Y. A. Warren

            That all we experience as matter is made up of energy isn’t a religious belief; it is a scientific fact.

  • Heather Preseau

    I think it’s awesome that Jesus came to earth as a baby. It totally flies in the face of everything Satan was expecting. I mean, he came in a feeding trough and tells His diciples to “eat of my flesh” the night before He died. There is no denying His deity because he fulfilled every single prophesy depecting the Messiah. It is SO important to have the balanced view of seeing Jesus as God and Jesus as human at the same time. He couldn’t be my Savior if he wasn’t 100% both. If we only see Him as the all-powerful, all conquering King, we miss out on the approachable “Abba” Father that desires us to desire Him.We would either be to legalistic or to lax about our relationship with Him. The way we view God affects the way we live: beliefs affect behavior and doctrine affects my duty as a believer.

  • Ginger

    Great post!
    “If I were God, I wouldn’t send Jesus as a baby. I’m in a hurry. I’d send an old sage and save humanity faster. God was too slow, too low-tech, and wasted time. That’s lack of visional clarity. It’s poor product placement to send him obscure and penniless when we know money and power save the world! God doesn’t understand marketing. But I am not God. Jesus chose the slow, difficult and gracious way. He dwelled among us.” -Oscar Muriu, Nairobi Kenya

  • BHG

    Just remember the white, supremacist, capitalist patriarchy is also made in God’s image. The great challenge of Christian life really IS to see God’s presence in everyone, even those who have greatly harmed us, or others, while opposing and repairing the harm that we do to each other, great and small. Your points about Jesus are beautiful. Your anger, more than understandable. Your conclusion, unsupportable. That baby–Jesus– came to redeem all of creation, even the white, supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

    • Kristen Rosser

      I disagree. The white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is not a person or a set of persons. It’s a system. Jesus came to redeem all those caught in that system– active perpetrators, and victims, and those simply going along for the ride. But that system is absolutely not made in God’s image.

      • BHG

        If you view a patriarchy as a system, you are correct. I view that term as referring to the people in it. I suspect I am not alone. And Jesus did come to make the whole creation new, to redeem all the world and everything in it.

    • http://thereforeiambic.blogspot.com/ Elena Johnston

      With God all things are possible, and many a privileged soul has stripped down in order to enter through the eye of the needle. But you cannot even see the Kingdom until you become like a little child.

    • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

      Nope. Not at all. Patriarchy and white supremacy and capitalism – these are all systems – and particularly systems of oppression. In the NT, systems of oppression like empire are referred to as demonic.

      So, no, systems of oppression are not made in God’s image – or not of any god that is familiar to Jesus.

      That all persons are made in God’s image? Yes. But that means the poor and trans* and people with disabilities and women and… are all created IN GOD’S IMAGE. This supposes working for an equity and search for justice that defending supremacy and patriarchy are opposed to.

  • guest

    He may have been a child, but he was a male cisgender child, and his claim to be messiah was based on him being descended from King David along a patriarchal line. God the father is overwhelmingly male as well. Christianity is part of the problem, not a solution. Mary was just a vessel for her baby.

  • Y. A. Warren

    GREAT PIECE!

    The reason I continue to come back to the life of Jesus is because of what I knew to be true as I cried, as a six-year-old in front of the figure of the baby that I had been told was killed by my sins. It knew it had to be a lie, but I was forced to spend my life in shame and abuse for not being “perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect,” nonetheless.

    I now see Jesus as a human, plain and simple, born in the image and likeness of “God,” as were you and I, but with a better dose of grace than most of us. This grace was accepted, expanded, and handed down from his ancestors and his parents. If he was “God” on earth, there would be no big deal about how well he lived his life. I completely reject any god who would make a child in order to have him killed as a sacrifice to himself. I do respect martyrs who are so passionate about their beliefs that they are willing to die for them.

    No matter what the sex-scared “Christian” church says, I believe Mary bled and screamed while her husband fretted with worry that his wife and child may be dying during the birth process.

    As the Jefferson Bible points out, even without all the magic, the prescription of Jesus for building responsibly compassionate community on earth is the best example that we have.

    The Sacred Spirit that is available to all of us existed before the birth of Jesus and remains after Pentecost. There is no specific gender to the fullness of The Sacred Spirit. We’re all chips off the Eternal Energy, in various shapes, forms, sizes, and genders.

    Jesus happened to be a joyful Jewish boy; hence, he could do much as a rabbi with a new take on living The Sacred Spirit. I revere him and his family and attempt to keep his example forefront in my mind. I only wish I knew more about his early life and the challenges his parents faced in bringing him up “in the way he should go.”

  • Kat Emralde

    Fantastic piece! Jesus coming to humanity is in my opinion one of the BIGGEST parts of the story. And yes, one of the most challanging!


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