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.
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