When we reflect on the question In the Incarnation why does Jesus come to us as a baby we open ourselves to many powerful graces.
Reason #1: Because Babies Do Not Judge
In coming to us, Jesus wants our first impression of him to be an impression of one who does not judge. We know our faults and failings. We’re well aware our unworthiness and guilt. It all can make us feel scared and put off about getting close to God. But babies are not scary. And that’s why the Son of God made flesh comes to us at Christmas as an unimposing infant. As St. Bernard encourages us, “Jesus comes as a little one lest we be terrified.”
The tenderness, the gentleness, the mildness, the tininess of a baby disarms us of all our dread, misgivings, and inhibitions. Bl. Guerric of Igny (+1157) assures us that “Jesus much prefers to be loved than to be feared with servility. And so now when he shows himself to mortal men for the first time, he prefers to present himself as a child in order to inspire love rather than fear.”
The logic of this ingenious strategy intrigues St. Bernard: “The lesser Jesus became through his human nature, the greater was his goodness. The more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me.” And Pope Benedict XVI adds, “Jesus comes as a baby because he does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness.”
Reason #2: Because babies are irresistible.
Whenever a baby is in the room, even the most hardened, sour, crotchety, Scrooge-like person melts. As the Christmas song goes, “a baby changes everything.” Babies bring out the best in us. They make us relive our innocence. They turn us into children again. We bill and coo; we talk in baby talk. Everybody wants to hold the baby because babies fill us with hope and joy and wonder and the sense of a second chance.
Before a baby we drop our defenses as well as our aggressiveness. Babies make us want to change our behavior. That’s why people put a “Baby on Board” sign in their car window. When we are close to a baby, we want to drink in the beauty and promise radiating from that little one. “The powerlessness of a child has become the proper expression of God’s all-subduing power, for the only force the baby Jesus employs is the silent force of truth and love” (Joseph Ratzinger).
So much of our life is stuck in resisting God. The only way to overcome such resistance is by something irresistible. And that’s why Jesus comes to us at Christmas in the irresistible form of a baby. Babies are adorable. The presence of the baby Jesus leads us to want to do what the Christmas carol urges: O, come let us adore Him!
Reason #3: Because babies are needy.
We are often ensnared by the false notion that we need to fend for ourselves, to make an idol out of autonomy, to prove our worth and value, to be self-sufficient, to be Number One. But Jesus comes as a baby—utterly vulnerable, weak, and dependent on others for everything.
Babies don’t earn love. The Infant Jesus embodies a crucial lesson for life: the acceptance, the worthiness, the longing to belong for which we yearn is not something that we can earn. It is given as a gift. Holiness means receiving that love.
Therefore, the best thing we can do is to acknowledge—and make a gift—of our own vulnerability, our own emptiness and inability. Our limitations and weakness do not define us—rather, they lead us to the measure and meaning of our life: Jesus Christ!
To live the mystery of Christmas is to do exactly what the baby Jesus does from the manger: he depends on the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. Depending on others is not something bad; it is not a sign of inferiority or inadequacy. Rather, dependence is a Christmas gift. Our need to depend is given to us by God to be the way that leads us to our happiness, our fulfillment, our sanctity. Dependence on God is what makes me myself. The human being’s most exalted greatness and freedom derive from a direct dependence on God. Saints are simply those who have mastered the art of depending upon God.
Once Jesus can talk, he will teach us what he models for us from his first moments on earth: Unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Let us meditate on this profound counsel of Cardinal Ratzinger:
God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts, and his will—we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him in us. Let us allow our heart, our soul, and our mind to be touched by this fact!
–Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.