We’ve just come through the week of the two babies. Two Sundays ago it was all about the baby Jesus. Last Sunday it was another baby who demanded our attention — “Baby New Year.” A baby in a top hat, sash, and a diaper has been the symbol of New Year’s Day since the dawn of the 20th century when the Saturday Evening Post began putting a picture of a little baby on the cover of their year-end issues. The symbolism is clear. The New Year arrives like a little baby who will age through the days of the coming year and after 12 months be old and withered in the end, like Father Time.
Carl Dennis, one of my favorite poets, saw these two babies – Jesus and the Baby New Year – with their respective celebrations just one week apart on the calendar as competitors of sorts.
More jubilant by far than many Christians
On the birthday of Jesus, [he wrote] the many pagans
Crowding into the square this New Year’s Eve,
Though by now they must realize that the baby
Whose birth they’re about to witness
Is doomed to grow old and die in a year,
Just as the last one did, and the one before,
Without a crumb of hope in a second coming.
I take a different view. Rather than competition for Christ, I find that Baby New Year with his message of growth and change is actually the perfect counterpoint to our tendency as Christians to linger too long at the manger.
We love Christmas. It pulls at our hearts. Christ the baby can be cuddled and cooed. We want to hold Him in our arms as he sleeps, and this is precisely the reason why we need Baby New Year to come along just a week after our visit to the Christmas crib with his urgent cry of “tempus fugit” – “time flies.” Halford Luccock, a Methodist minister who taught preaching at Yale Divinity School for a quarter of a century, warned about how our Christmas celebrations can actually become something of a liability to our Christianity. He said –
“[We can] become so entranced with the beautiful story of a baby in a manger that [we] miss the chief point of the story, and hence do not feel the compulsion which it lays on life. We can become so charmed with the story of a baby that we grow sentimental about it; it does not ask that we do anything about it; it does not demand any vital change in our way of thinking and living.”
And so Professor Luccock preached a famous Christmas sermon about how the baby Jesus did not remain a baby for very long. As significant as Christmas is, he insisted, it is far from the end of the story, and it is certainly not the bulk of the story. Christmas is just the story’s beginning. The baby Jesus grew up, and in his maturity we see a way of living that calls for a change in our own. He asked –
“Is our Christmas only a story about a baby, or is it more, a deathless story about a person into whom the baby grew, who can redeem the world from its sins, and who calls us into partnership with his great and mighty purposes?”
You see, the baby grew up, and so must we. When Luke tells us that – “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (2:52) – he was telling us that Jesus was a human being just like us who grew up just as we do. And spiritually, because Jesus is the “new Adam,” the one who shows us the right way to live, the way God always intended us to live, I think that we can take the four categories of Jesus’ maturation as a human being that this verse describes – the intellectual, the physical, the spiritual, and the social – and use them as a way to plot and then keep track of our own maturation as human beings.
My grandmother kept a record of my growth as a kid from year to year by making marks on a wall in her pantry right next to the marks of her other four grandchildren. And spiritually this is what Luke 2:52 does for us. It tell us how Jesus grew up as a human being, and in doing this, it tells us about the different ways that we are to grow up as human beings as well. We are in the season of New Year’s resolutions right now. Many of us are considering the ways that we want to do better and to be better next year than we were last year. I believe that this instinct is hardwired into us as human beings. We are built to grow, and according to Luke 2:52 the channels of our growth are going to be –
- Intellectual because “Jesus steadily increased in wisdom.” The New Testament says that being a Christian is a matter of the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2), so the growth question for us to be asking ourselves is: “What difference is Jesus Christ making in my thinking?”
- Physical because “Jesus steadily increased in stature.” The New Testament calls our bodies “Temples of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19), and then it commands us to “glorify God in our bodies” (I Corinthians 6:20), so the growth question for us to be asking ourselves is: “How does my physical life reflect my spiritual commitments and values?”
- Spiritual because “Jesus steadily increased in favor with God.” Every image that the New Testament uses to describe the spiritual life is an image of growth – a seed planted, sprouting and growing to the harvest, a building going up from a foundation, brick by brick to the roof, a footrace from the starting blocks, through the course to the finish line, a person growing from birth through childhood to adulthood, so the growth question for us to be asking ourselves is: “Where am I growing right now in my relationship with God?
- Social because “Jesus steadily increased in favor with people.” The New Testament is very clear that we can’t love a God we don’t see if we aren’t loving the people around us that we do see (I John 4:20). So, the growth question for us to be asking ourselves is: “How am I getting along with others these days?”
For most of my life I have prayed the same Order for Morning Prayer. In part, it says –
O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I prayed these words when I was 12 years old. I prayed these words when I was 32 years old. I prayed these words when I was 52 years old. And I expect to still be praying these words when I am 72 years old. To live is to grow. To live is to change. This is not just a Christian truth, this is a human truth. What makes it “Christian” is the direction that our growth as human beings takes. As a Christian, I want to grow in grace as I grow in age, and what this aspiration means is that I know that I’m not finished yet. I’m still very much a work in progress. I’m still figuring out how Jesus Christ affects the way that I think, and how He determines what I do with my body, and how He makes it possible for me to relate to God, and how He informs the way that I treat you. I was working on this when I was 12. I was working on this when I was 32. I was working on this when I was 52. And I expect to still be working on this when I am 72. I expect to still be working on this when I am 72.
I find that this week of the two babies is my annual invitation to grow up in every way into Christ – intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially – and my timely reminder that I’m not finished yet. We’ve all still got some growing to do. DBS +