Every day my job enables me to witness humanity in its most refined state: children picking their noses, chewing their sleeves into a slobbery mess, excommunicating their friends and then playing with them the next day, and girls awkwardly hiding from their crushes. I laugh at the thought of what I must have been like a child. It seems like such a distant and impossible thing.
But what is an even stranger thought is that Jesus was this way once.
Well, I couldn’t tell you for sure whether or not he ever had a crush on a girl, but at one point, he was teething, falling over as he learned to sit up by himself, running into things as he struggled to stand on chubby little kid legs. He probably picked his nose and had poor Mary fighting to keep objects out of his mouth. He must have asked silly questions as he attempted to make sense of the world around him, and made faux-pas as he discovered what was socially inappropriate.
My sister and I were out looking at Christmas lights the other day and amidst the Disney characters and Santa Claus displays, we came across a Nativity scene. The reverence I am assuming it was supposed to inspire was lost upon us, as we couldn’t help but laugh at Jesus in his manger (with a full head of thick, sandy-blond hair), holding his hands out to passersby like a magician taking a bow. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ, but the term “baby Jesus” is tossed around flippantly, and we seem to jump straight from birth to death without pausing to consider the in-between or what a little human baby Jesus actually signifies.
Recently I have been struck by the humanity of Christ. Jesus to me has always been a friend, a confidante, my all-powerful Savior. But I have failed to understand the relevance and impact of his humanity. This has long been a point of contention as councils have convened, creeds have been administered, and divisions occurred all over how much Jesus was actually human and how much he was divine.
But regardless, he lived on the earth. He had a family – a mother, father, brothers and sisters. I know the passing years have changed societal functions, but I have a feeling that the weird and frustrating dynamics of today’s families were still existent over 2,000 years ago. Jesus had to learn to walk, to read, to work with his hands. Like us, he had to learn the nature of his heavenly father and to walk in obedience (although he did figure it out better than the rest of us). He dealt with pain and loss. He had to have had aches and pains in his muscles and bones as he walked miles and miles, calling the Jews unto himself. He had hunger, thirst.
And he must not have been able to avoid the timeless questions that everyone asks themselves of their purpose, their place in the world and their identity. At what point did he know that he was the Son of God or that he had to die? I can’t imagine the emotions and mental process that must have accompanied this realization and understanding.
Why does this even matter?
I don’t think this is some great, deep mystery. It is just so remarkably strange, and thus captivating in a way, when you actually stop to think about it — the God of the universe, a human. The aches and the pains, the tears and the losses, the betrayals and little kid awkwardness make Christ someone who knows exactly who we are and what we deal with. We see him darkly, as if through a mirror, because we do not share in his divinity. But he knows us, intimately, perfectly, because he has “been there, done that” for most of our life experiences. Technology changes, cultures transform and customs progress, but much of what is essential to human existence has remained the same in world history. And he knows it all. He is not one of those professors that make you wonder if they ever actually went to school because of their harsh grading and merciless policies. He is not some government bureaucrat heartlessly serving papers, drafting proposals and dealing out consequences like an automaton.
There are of course differences between the life of Christ and the rest of us, but he was a child, a pre-teen, a twenty-something, a man.
When I think about the life of Christ, when I watch movies like The Nativity Story and The Passion of the Christ, I am not looking into the face of a mythical person. I am looking into the face of a man — a real man who felt pain and hurt and joy and peace and emotions the same way we do. Understanding his humanity removes any doubt of his love and compassion, of the all too common false notion that he just sits up there in heaven as a faceless and unimaginable God.
Christ’s humanity makes him all the more real, his salvation all the more tender and sweet. It helps me remember my desperate prayers aren’t lost into the air. They are known, they are understood. I am known, I am understood. And I am never alone.