We are, or certainly ought to be, used to thinking of “the scandal of Easter”. That God’s foolishness – “Christ, and him crucified” – is wiser than man’s wisdom. That, in the blunt words of the second-century St Melito of Sardis, “God has been murdered” (On Pascha).
The scandal of Christmas, however, is much less often remarked upon. That God himself became a real human baby, with all the weakness and dependence that that entails, is something truly shocking. This has many dimensions. Another second-century Christian, Tertullian, muses on the infant Christ “wallow[ing] in all the humiliations of nature” and “the embarrassments which accompany it from the womb” (De Carne Christi). That is to say, as St Melito might have put it, “God has pooed himself”. How’s that for kenotic self-emptying? (Pun – forgive me – fully intended.)
It is for a rather different reason, however, that the power of the Creed’s simple affirmation, that the Son of God “became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”, has hit me with full force in the past few days.
Our own joyfully anticipated son was born on Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, he was in Intensive Care following major abdominal surgery. As of Wednesday, he’s now in the High Dependency Unit – i.e., “A Little Bit Less Intensive Care”. He is beside me as I write these words, sleeping the peaceful slumber of the morphine-sedated. I’ve lost count of the number of tubes going in and out of him. I think it’s four now, down from six or seven at one point.
We have had, you might say, been an eventful few days. Perhaps a better, devouter person could honestly say that they’d gotten by on prayer alone. Coming from me though, that would be doing black coffee, Quavers, and festive sandwiches from M&S a grave disservice. That said, the flood of prayers, Mass intentions, expressions of concern, and offers of help we’ve been receiving from literally across the world have been a huge comfort and consolation.
The Scriptures do not tell us of any infant illnesses suffered by Our Lord. But then, they do not tell us very much about his early years at all. St Athanasius says somewhere – you’ll forgive me if I don’t have the full bibliographical details to hand – that Christ couldn’t ever have fallen ill. Frankly, I’m not remotely convinced. In fact, Chalcedon’s “like us in all things but sin” rather implies the opposite. After all, Isaiah 53 informs us, he has “borne our infirmities and carried our diseases”. The words of that great Easter hymn apply to Christmas too: “O who am I, that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh…”?
Speaking of Tertullian, another of his writings came to mind yesterday morning. In the first paragraph of On Baptism, he writes this lovely bit: “we, little fishes, after the example of our ICHTUS Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water”.
Francis Benedict Bullivant, our dear little fishy, received Holy Baptism yesterday morning. An NHS standard-issue plastic bowl served as his Font: a more beautiful one you never will see. Do please pray for him. And us.