Though I’m not a NASCAR fan, I love the movie Talladega Nights. More precisely, I love one scene from the film when its star, Will Ferrell, who plays the role of a superstar race car driver, offers a prayer of thanksgiving at a meal surrounded by friends and family. During his attempt to do his “Grace good,” Ferrell repeatedly addresses the prayer to “sweet baby Jesus” or “tiny baby Jesus” or some iteration involving “baby Jesus.” As a theologian, I find it to be one of the most hilarious clips in cinematic history.
If you were to press me, I’d have to confess that the movie is really just so-so at best, but this scene—it’s so flawed and so telling and so perfect, all at the same time. Somehow it manages to capture the very essence of how many North Americans Christians honor one of the most phenomenal, reality-altering events the world has ever known: the divine incarnation. If we’re honest, we have to admit that our culture also has a mild fascination with sweet baby Jesus, particularly around the Christmas season.
Each year, with a spirit of nostalgia and excitement, we carefully unwrap the delicate figurines that compose the well-known diorama of the night Jesus was born. And Jesus is always the last to fill out the scene. Gently placed in the manger, we quietly pause to reflect on how cozy he was, wrapped in swaddling cloth and lovingly surrounded by all those farm animals, the shepherds, and his family. The nativity scene warms our hearts and reminds us that Jesus truly is the reason for the season.
I’d like to suggest, however, that more often than not, our love for Christmas as the birthday of Jesus doesn’t really go much beyond our fascination with that cutesy image—when, in fact, there is nothing cutesy about that day. When we really consider what happened that day, when Christ was born, I think we can’t help but be left in awe. Christ’s birth represented way more than God’s humility to be born in a lonely setting.
No, Christ’s birth was the ultimate divine reversal of all things know by humanity. It was the most powerful and all-knowing Divine being—infinite, boundless, immortal—becoming like us—finite, bounded, and very mortal—that makes this act so unfathomable. The instance of the incarnation was the epitome of all expressions of humility as the divine emptied itself into a human vessel. It was the beginning of God’s earthly dwelling among us. And how does culture celebrate this cataclysmic event? A little sweet baby Jesus in a snow globe made in China, with the slogan, “Jesus loves you snow much.”
In the end, I’m certain no one is trying to minimize the majesty of the incarnation by making baby Jesus tchotchkes, but in many cases, that’s exactly what happens in our homes and churches every December. There are ample ways to make the holiday season more holy, more sacred, or just more meaningful. If we really want Jesus to be the reason for the season, perhaps we should start with considering how we celebrate our Savior’s transcendent entrance into this world.