Dear Baby God

It is good  to be gathered here with you tonight on my favorite night of the year, the night that we celebrate the birth of a baby who will change the world.

Everything about this evening is special – the music that our choirs have practiced so many hours; the beautiful flowers and altar, arranged and prepared by faithful and loving hands; the glittering candlelight that adds to the magic and mystery of this night.

The birth of this child is one of the best known stories in all of literature. It has been an inspiration to artists of all kinds for centuries.

The events of this night have inspired painters like Rembrandt and Botticelli; composers like Bach and Handel; authors like Dickens and O Henry.

And the director of a movie I saw again not too long ago.

Now Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is most definitely NOT a Christmas movie, and I am not recommending it as such, or really recommending it at all.

But there is one scene in the movie that perhaps unintentionally makes a theological statement about the birth we are here to celebrate tonight.

Ricky Bobby, the country’s most successful NASCAR driver, is seated with his family around a table laden with every fast food imaginable. Before the family digs in, he insists on saying grace.

“Dear Lord baby Jesus,” he begins, “we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest…”

Suddenly his wife interrupts. “You know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up,” she says. “You don’t always have to call him a baby. It’s a bit odd and off putting to pray to a baby.”

Ricky Bobby will not be dissuaded.

“I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m the one saying grace,” he says. “When you say grace, you can say it to the grown-up Jesus or teen-aged Jesus or bearded Jesus or whatever you want.”

Then he closes his eyes and begins again.

“Dear 8-pound, 6-ounce newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent….Thank you for all your power and grace, dear baby God. Amen.”

Since watching that scene I’ve tried to think of a time I’ve heard – or said – a prayer to the baby Jesus, and I can’t really think of one.

Other than this night and the brief 12-day season of Christmas, we don’t really talk about the baby Jesus too much, even in church.  In just three short months we will mourn the death of the child whose birth we celebrate this night, and then rejoice at the mystery of his resurrection.

Ricky Bobby’s wife is right that there is something a little “odd and off putting” about praying to a baby.

One commentator calls it the “scandal of Christmas,” that God comes into human history completely helpless, as a dependent newborn, and is placed in a cow’s feeding trough.

It is outrageous.

Here we have Caesar Augustus, ruler of the mighty Roman Empire, giving decrees to the world. He is called lord and savior of the world, is worshipped as divine.

One might think the true God would want to put Caesar in his place, show him who is really God. Consider in what splendor and power God might have come to earth.

But instead God slips unobtrusively into a remote province in a far corner of the empire, born to a peasant couple on the road, begging for the crudest shelter in which to spend the night.

By entering human history this way, our God identifies with the powerless, the oppressed, the vulnerable, the poor, the homeless, the immigrant.

By entering human history this way, our God shows that wealth and power and military might are not the ways to the kingdom of God.

By entering human history this way, our God shows a divine understanding of what it means to be human, and can truly share in our pains and sorrows, as well as our joys and triumphs.

By entering human history this way, by being willing to be vulnerable and helpless for our sake, God shows us how much God loves the world.

A hymn we will sing later in the service puts it well:

“He came down from earth to heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor, the scorned, the lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.

“We, like Mary, rest confounded that a stable should display heaven’s Word, the world’s creator, cradled there on Christmas Day; yet this child, our Lord and brother, brought us love for one another.

“For he is our livelong pattern; daily, when on earth he grew; he was tempted, scorned, rejected; tears and smiles like us he knew. Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness.”

Soon enough we will be back to the grown-up Jesus, and we will pray and give thanks to and for him.

But tonight, in the words of Ricky Bobby, our prayers are directed to the helpless, cuddly infant lying in the manger in Bethlehem, and to him we pray, “Thank you for all  your power and grace, dear baby God.”

Amen.

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