Ethos Blog

Shopping Cart


Our tiny, little God: A mother’s Advent reflection

Monday, 19 December 2022  | Claire Harvey

I found the early stages of parenthood to be shockingly hard work. A long and exhausting labour and birth were followed by difficulties with feeding, and we had an alert little girl on our hands who generally power-napped and micro-slept her way through the day (delightful as she was)! And then came the teething – which seemed to last forever….

During all of this, however, despite the natural cynic in me, my sleep-deprived eyes suddenly saw signs of love everywhere: each adult I saw represented a genuine miracle. I had become painfully aware that someone had loved them enough to feed them, clothe them, bathe them and change copious nappies - again, and again, and again! Someone had nurtured them through these most vulnerable weeks and months of their lives when they were completely and utterly dependent upon others for their survival and flourishing. We know that not all infants or children get the best start in life: unfortunately some don’t get the opportunity to thrive at all. But for newborns, even bare survival requires reasonably constant care and attention. Consequently, every adult is the product of a miracle - or more accurately a series of small, everyday miracles – the choice to keep on loving.

I didn’t grow up within the evangelical Sunday school system, so it’s only in recent years that I’ve learnt the song ‘My God is so BIG, so STRONG and so MIGHTY there’s nothing my God cannot do’ by Ruth Harms Calkin. Having more recently welcomed our son into the world, I have been reflecting at times upon the incarnation and the fact that in Jesus our God was not actually big, strong and mighty at all. Rather, he was SMALL, WEAK and so, so very, very VULNERABLE. Initially, at least, we can only presume that there was very little this Jesus could do, at all!

In the past I have really appreciated The Message paraphrase of John 1:14 where it talks about Jesus taking on flesh and blood and moving ‘into the neighbourhood’. However, the imagery conjured in my mind has generally been of a suitcase-carrying nomad wandering into town. Of course, Jesus’ arrival was not remotely like this! In the material sense, little Jesus was born to Mary with absolutely nothing - not even clothes on his back. I’m sure God did his homework, in his providence and omniscience hand-picking Mary and Joseph, knowing ahead of time that they were up to this profoundly significant task. However, I expect that the birth of Christ inevitably involved pain and mess, and that this little newborn was fragile and helpless, like any other newborn. Baby Jesus would have needed milk, again and again and again. He would have loved his mother’s warmth, her hugs, her voice, her face, her smile. He would have depended completely on Mary and Joseph for his survival, day after day after day.

If we miss this in the rush of Christmas, and if we miss this in our evangelical zeal to get quickly to the Cross and Resurrection, we miss one of the most amazing miracles and wonders of the Christian faith. And of course the temptation is there to do just that. We have inherited vestiges of the Platonic tradition, that despises the earthiness, the mess, the pain, the stark fragility of human existence and that instead focuses on the apparent purity of the ‘spiritual’ realm to which we will apparently one day escape. (Personally, I am more and more drawn to the much more holistic image of fullness of life experienced in a resurrected body within the context of a very real, renewed creation, but that’s another story for another day.) Today is the day to be reminded that we worship a God who chose quite intentionally to get mixed up in our very messy world - as a babe of all things!

In the midst of a pluralistic culture saturated with a vast array of various religious beliefs, this one tenet of the Christian faith – the incarnation - is particularly profound and unique. It is worthy of greater attention, appreciation and celebration.

Our Advent season, instead of focussing so extensively on polished Christmas productions and the cycle of conspicuous consumption we are all too familiar with, could focus more on the nature of the incarnation and the possible implications for us today: that our God is one who is prepared to make himself vulnerable in stooping to join us here on earth; and that he does not despise vulnerability and weakness but rather embraces it. Indeed, in the book of James we read that ‘pure’ religion is that which seeks to take care of orphans and widows – some of the most vulnerable members of society at the time. In Matthew 25, in the story of the sheep and the goats, Jesus talks about expressing our care for him through our care for his needy brothers and sisters who were hungry, alienated, naked, sick or imprisoned. And in the 21st century such lists could readily include the disabled, the elderly, those struggling physical and mental ill-health, children from broken and dysfunctional families, the LGBTQI+ community, First Nations people and refugees, among others. Remembering these – the least, the last, the lost – at Christmas would be a start. Ensuring that we make every effort to welcome and include these people in our faith communities in the year ahead would be even better, and would indeed make for a very rich experience of church life!

Of course, if we were really brave, our Advent season could even include a greater recognition of the role of Mary. She was, after all, mother to Jesus. This might also lead us to express a greater recognition of the valuable and rather sacred role of parenting. We would generally all agree that nobody has changed the course of human history quite like Jesus Christ, yet we too easily forget he was once a babe, lying in a manger, needing the love and care of his highly favoured parents.


Claire’s Lullaby

(Sung to the tune of Row, Row, Row your Boat)

May God bless and keep you

          all through the night

make his face to shine on you

          for you are his delight.

May God bless and keep you

          all through the day

his angels to watch over you

          this is what we pray.


Claire Harvey is mother to Sarah (13) and Micah (10). They make their home on Bunarong land (in Melbourne's South East) where Claire serves on Frankston City Council. She currently works at ISCAST and is on the board of Ethos. In her spare time Claire enjoys reading, walking, podcasts and time in the garden: one of her deep delights is seeing her kids enjoy freshly picked home produce!


An earlier version of this article was published in 2012 at Reproduced with permission.


Photo credit: Baby Micah with his grandfather. By Claire Harvey.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment


Online Resources

subscribe to engage.mail

follow us

Latest Articles