Preparing for our baby has been a whirlwind of building cots, buying nappies, and pre-emptive sleep reclamation. My wife and I are readying ourselves for the kicking, screaming baby that will soon be part of our lives. It’s probably nothing compared to what Mary and Joseph’s preparation would have looked like. On the one hand the usual baby things, albeit in their first century form, on the other, the idea that this baby was not only a child but the child, the one to save everyone.
That’s what the new ChurchAds.net Christmas campaign is trying to show. Godbaby – He cries, he wees, he saves the world.
ChurchAds’ long-running campaign is Christmas Starts with Christ. Each year they aim to re-tell elements of the Christmas story in a contemporary way, with campaigns featuring on billboards and bus stops. Last year they focussed on fashion, the year before was a baby scan and before that a bus stop nativity.
You can see their point with Godbaby. Christmas is the ideal time to introduce a toy-based message. It’s also the reality of Christmas, a baby, who, despite unusual circumstances, did all of the usual things we expect a baby to do.
This story of God becoming human (the incarnation) is usually offered in two parts: Christmas and Easter. Christmas celebrates the coming of baby Jesus, but by Easter, that baby will be in his 30s and dying/dead. Quite often we’re so tempted to make sure that people know that Jesus came and died that we jump from nativities to God’s wrath without much thought for the intervening years. Both of these elements make for powerful preaching but we often never really get a chance to meet the man himself.
The idea of incarnation is difficult. Explaining the ‘fully God and fully man’ angle gets most Christians tripping over our own tangled logic. The beauty of it, however, is the number of things the incarnation allowed Jesus to do all at once. If you move away from the classic incarnation stories and dive into the book of Hebrews you find Jesus described as a son, as a creator, as a priest, a sacrifice, a man, and a brother.
The wonder of the incarnation is that we have more than two choices for our Jesus.
It’s not just baby or dead man.
Nor detached deity or my best mate.
The surprise of the incarnation is that seeing that we are living, breathing things, Jesus became a living breathing thing, and took on everything that we do so that he can understand and help us through. While being a baby is a universal experience, crucifixion isn’t, but there’s much more Jesus offers. Skim the gospels and you’ll find Jesus’ arguing with his brothers, abandoned by his friends, and hungry. You’ll also find him as the most popular guy in the city, bringing the drinks, sharing his food, and talking to the girl that everyone’s spreading rumours about. The incarnation is wholly miraculous and completely normal.
Often, when we think of the incarnation, we cut the story short, or we ask the wrong question. We ask ‘who was Jesus?’ and respond with a snapshot: a baby, a death, a title. It might be better to ask it differently and move to ‘who is Jesus?’ In doing so we move away from the idea of component parts, bits that Jesus can be broken down into. We move away from the idea that each of us has a personal Jesus distinct from other people’s Jesus.
If we take a Jesus who is, rather than was, we pursue a whole person, the incarnate Jesus. That Jesus, we’ll find, is as complex and as simple as ourselves. Once a baby, he did all the things that babies do, but he also grew up. Not in a matter of months so that he could die in time for Easter, but grew and lived, then died and lived again. And so we meet a man who is more than a man, yet not distinct from it. A brother, a son, a friend, God, creator, and miracle worker. Priest, sacrifice, first, and last. Not one thing at a time but all at once.
What do you think of this year’s Godbaby advertising campaign?