For low church Protestants who partake of the Lordâ€™s Supper monthly, usually the first Sunday of the month, the juxtaposition of remembering both the baby Jesusâ€™ fleshy form and the adult Jesusâ€™ broken body and flowing blood rarely occurs. We can have our Lordâ€™s Supper at the beginning of December and hear sermons on the birth of Jesus at the end of the same month, never having the links between the baby fat of the nativity scene and the wounded body of the crucifixion pressed upon our consideration of the incarnation in all of is wonder and agony.
But a recent Lordâ€™s Supper evening service brought the realities of Christâ€™s birth and death into closer proximity and was a poignant reminder of the continuity between the body and blood of the babe whom the shepherds adored and spiritual eating of that same flesh and blood in the sacrament. Since the service, as a prelude to Christmas without being explicitly an Advent observance â€“ low churchers donâ€™t do Advent unless it becomes a time to affirm the family (as in families lighting the Advent wreath candles) â€“ included several hymns related to Christâ€™s nativity, the reminder of the fleshy character of the incarnation was right there next to a call to discern Christâ€™s body in the Supper.
Consider the following Christmas (or Advent â€“ I canâ€™t keep them straight) hymn lines:
All praise to thee, Eternal Lord, Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood (first line of Lutherâ€™s 1524 hymn)
To human view displayed, All meanly wrapped in swathing bands (â€œWhile Shepherds Watched Their Flocksâ€)
Born of Mary ever blest, God in flesh is manifest (â€œSavior of the Nations Comeâ€)
Veiled in flesh the godhead see, Hail the incarnate deity (â€œHark, the Herald Angels Singâ€)
Word of the Father, Late in flesh appearing (â€œO Come, All Ye Faithfulâ€)
All this mention of the flesh of Christ in the manger right before the observance of the Lordâ€™s Supper brings the body of the baby into much closer proximity with the body and blood of Christâ€™s sacrifice than I had ever before contemplated. To use the language of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Christ who â€œtook upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Maryâ€ (A 35), is the same Jesus whose â€œcrucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink, whereby our souls are fed to eternal life.â€ In fact, in the bread and wine we really become â€œpartakers of his true body and blood by the operation of the Holy Ghost as we receive by the mouths of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of himâ€ (A 79).
Maybe plenty of low church Protestants made this connection long before I did. And I suspect that many believers who refuse the sentimentality that haunts nativity scenes and Advent candles have long known that the baby we adore as a warm up to unwrapping gifts and devouring fresh ham was born precisely to do the work of the one and only high priest who would offer up his own body to take away the sins of the world. In which case, for those who take the atonement seriously, the joy of Jesusâ€™ birth should always be calibrated according to the rest of Christâ€™s humiliation which began with his taking human flesh and included graphically the torture of his body on the way to descending into hell.
But I do wonder if Christians observed the Lordâ€™s Supper more frequently, or at least during Christmas pageants and concerts, they would also be struck that, in the words of the Belgic Confession, the sacraments we hold â€œin our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths,â€ which sustain our spiritual life and are â€œthe true body and true blood of Christâ€(Art. 35), are the same flesh and blood celebrated in the form of an innocent baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, to prevent the chill of Bethlehemâ€™s frigid winter. (Kidding, of course about Bethlehemâ€™s weather; today the city of Jesusâ€™ birth will experience a low temperature of 50 degrees.)
Note to readers rightly concerned about images of Jesus: the photo included with this post is intended as a generic portrayal of babies and their fleshy existence.