The Gift of God's Baby Talk
The Reformer John Calvin once said that when God speaks to us, God “lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children” (Institutes, 1.13.1).” In other words, God speaks to us in baby talk. God does this, says Calvin, because God is love. Therefore, God never forgets that no matter how old or how big we become, we are still helpless, dependent, unknowing babies so far as He is concerned.
So God stoops to our weakness. When God speaks, He tells us only as much as we need to know, only what we can take. God knows we cannot stand the full weight of the full truth, the full glory. The Creator knows the needs and limits of us creatures. So God talks baby talk to us.
God inspired an entire Bible of baby talk. God simply says to Adam and Eve, “You are in charge. But stay off that tree over there.” God never gets around to telling them why; he simply tells them the way it is. But you know Adam and Eve. From the beginning, we want to know too much for our own good.
God speaks to Moses out of a burning bush, knowing that children are fascinated by fire and things like that. But when he speaks, it is with utter simplicity: “Go tell the people that I AM sent you.”
And the Ten Commandments, basic kindergarten rules: You shall not kill. You shall not lie. You shall not steal. Honor your father and mother.
And the prophets: broken jars and scrolls and other object lessons for children. There is talk of lions, lambs, and stories that even little ones understand.
Baby talk. Baby talk with absolute authority and power. Baby talk that is sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold; that is not like grass that withers or flowers that fades; that abides forever. But baby talk nonetheless.
Have you ever watched people talk to babies? I sat one day in a park outside the seminary with my daughter, just a baby at the time, and watched perfectly intelligent, sensible adults stop before the stroller and, one after another, be reduced to nonsensical babblers. There was even the old professor, in the park for a stroll, bending over, puffing up his cheeks and pursing his lips as he buzzed and wheezed, clicked and sputtered. Watching my professor, I thought: If only your students and colleagues could see you now!
And yet, child development experts say that such baby talk is essential for language development, coordination, perception, and a host of other human characteristics. Many hospitals even employ nurses to walk around the neonatal care unit and talk to the smallest babies. There are research reports indicating that infants who are not talked to frequently during the first months of life suffer stunted development, and sometimes even die.
Some psychologists believe that trust is developed in a child during the very first weeks of its life, in all the little rituals of greeting that the infant and its parents go through when it wakes in the morning. All the cooing and tickling, grinning and silly chatter that occur between parents and their young, builds trust that is essential for one’s whole life. The absence of baby talk leads to serious deficiencies.
So if baby talk is that important, it only seems right that John’s Gospel should begin the story of Jesus not with a birth in a manger, or angels and shepherds, or Mary or Joseph—but with a word, the Word. The fourth Gospel says that Jesus is the Word (in the Greek, logos) who came down from heaven and dwelt among us. Although this is the only place in John’s gospel where Jesus is called the Word, it is a powerful image of the Christ, a wonderful introduction to the Incarnation.
You see, God has chose to send his Son into our nursery and speak baby talk with us. Jesus Christ became a child with us. God didn’t just say to the world, “I love you.” God’s great message of love became human being, a baby, who speaks. That is what the Incarnation means. He accommodated himself to our baby talk. He stammered with us in the nursery of human life.
The Incarnation, the Word made flesh, is the supreme example of God’s love and determination, from the beginning of the world, to be with us, not matter what it takes. Jesus the Christ is fully human and fully divine. Jesus was not just “the greatest person who ever lived,” not just a “great moral example,” not just “a wonderfully insightful teacher.” He is God in the flesh.
Some of us here this morning are not regular churchgoers; some of us are. Even among the regulars there are, most likely, many shades of faith. That may be because our faith has been bruised a bit by a failed marriage, or by our children’s fall from faith despite our prayers, or for no greater reason than that we’ve lost the habit of coming to church somewhere along the line. And there may be those of us who have lost faith by the growing secularization of society which whittles away at our spiritual core, telling us that Jesus the Christ, the Bible, the Church are childish things that need to be left behind.
To the outside observer just passing through, all this excited talk over the manger—the shepherds grinning and peering over the edge of the crib, the wise men from back East reduced to babbling fools—seems strange.
But here in the nativity is Truth, not as complex theory or lofty ideal, but Truth wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
When the child becomes a man, he still speaks in stories, parables, simple declarations of the way things are now that God has come in the flesh.
With a simple “Blessed are those,” he invites all to a kingdom where only the little ones are citizens—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, the peacemakers—a kingdom where to believe Him is “to receive the right to become children of God.”
For when God sent his Son, Jesus, into our human nursery, talking baby talk, and dying for the toddlers, everything is turned upside down, the lowly ones are great, the great are brought low; and he shut the mouths of those who thought they were too big for their own britches and could not see that they are helpless, dependent, unknowing babies so far as God is concerned.
So here I stand on this day to announce to you good news… from one child to another. God is with us. God speaks to us, not as words, but as the Word. And the Word this day is God’s baby talk to us. Merry Christmas! The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God!