Take, Eat, This Is My Baby Given for You

For low church Protestants who partake of the Lord’s Supper monthly, usually the first Sunday of the month, the juxtaposition of remembering both the baby Jesus’ fleshy form and the adult Jesus’ broken body and flowing blood rarely occurs. We can have our Lord’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 Lord’s Supper evening service brought the realities of Christ’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 – low churchers don’t do Advent unless it becomes a time to affirm the family (as in families lighting the Advent wreath candles) – included several hymns related to Christ’s nativity, the reminder of the fleshy character of the incarnation was right there next to a call to discern Christ’s body in the Supper.

Consider the following Christmas (or Advent – I can’t keep them straight) hymn lines:

All praise to thee, Eternal Lord, Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood (first line of Luther’s 1524 hymn)

To human view displayed, All meanly wrapped in swathing bands (“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”)

Born of Mary ever blest, God in flesh is manifest (“Savior of the Nations Come”)

Veiled in flesh the godhead see, Hail the incarnate deity (“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”)

Word of the Father, Late in flesh appearing (“O Come, All Ye Faithful”)

All this mention of the flesh of Christ in the manger right before the observance of the Lord’s Supper brings the body of the baby into much closer proximity with the body and blood of Christ’s sacrifice than I had ever before contemplated. To use the language of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Christ who “took upon him the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary” (A 35), is the same Jesus whose “crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink, whereby our souls are fed to eternal life.” In fact, in the bread and wine we really become “partakers 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 him” (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 Jesus’ birth should always be calibrated according to the rest of Christ’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 Lord’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 “in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths,” which sustain our spiritual life and are “the true body and true blood of Christ”(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 Bethlehem’s frigid winter. (Kidding, of course about Bethlehem’s weather; today the city of Jesus’ 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.

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8 thoughts on “Take, Eat, This Is My Baby Given for You

  1. Excellent observations on the nature of the incarnation. He was rightly the one who “came in darkest night to make us children of the light” and declares to us that though “forlorn and lowly” in birth, he was so to make us “rise to heaven from earth” (as Martin Luther in the first hymn you listed, so aptly observed).

    Merry Christmas!

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  2. Are those of us that do not celebrate anything resembling “Advent” or “Christmas” but do the Lord’s Supper monthly “middle-church”?

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  3. There was this on Christmas, then yesterday’s blizzard forced individual exercises of piety, and Robert Letham’s “The Lord’s Supper” was next on my reading list. The juxtaposition of advent and atonement has been spectacular indeed and redeemed the holiday from ubiquitous sentimentalism / Mariah Carey.

    Although I wish I read it sooner to its publication in 2001. I don’t know why it isn’t widely a required reading for Reformed church membership – I only heard of it this year. The options for strong, concise explanations of our sacramentology are limited, apparently, and in their absence many seem to default to cramming anything between evangelical pietism and FV sympathies into the confession’s language. But better late than never.

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