When little children act out the Nativity scene, we are usually content to let them pass around a plastic baby Jesus. A real human infant? Well, that’s a bit too dangerous.
The mystery of our Lord’s full humanity fascinates us all. But holding together the baby Jesus’s humanity with His full deity is far more challenging.
When Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds gazed on the newborn Jesus, what could they have known? While still pregnant Mary had cried, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47). But now nestled in her arms lay her helpless, hungry little baby—the one promised to save Israel. Could anyone have understood the cosmic immensity of this tiny infant?
Later, by the Spirit, John writes, “the Word was with God and was God” (John 1:1). Paul adds, “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16–17). As the finale of all the Bible, Jesus Christ Himself declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). Everything ever made exists through Him and under Him and for Him.
Herein is the mystery. If the newborn in Mary’s arms is God, then was He at the same time sustaining all the universe? Scholars puzzle as to how this could be. An early champion of the doctrine of the Trinity, Athanasius wrote, “The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things [in] Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained” (On the Incarnation 3.17). As Athanasius, so throughout Christian history, Jesus is proclaimed both babe in the manger and infinite Cosmic Lord.