My son is two years old, and he still smells like a baby. Fresh out of bed in the morning (once his overnight diaper has been changed), he smells like powder and childhood. It’s an intoxicating smell, one that my sister-in-law Melodie once declared her favorite in the world. It’s a dainty smell, a scent really, that doesn’t overwhelm and just puts people in a good mood.
I mean, really – have you ever held a cute, bubbly baby and been foul? It’s almost impossible.
(Though there are some Scrooge’s out there who could manage the feat. And this doesn’t include those times that you hold said baby and the tender little child turns his/her diaper into a hazmat zone.)
There’s something magical about that new baby smell, that scent of innocence that just makes the world feel like a more welcoming place. It’s more powerful than new-car smell or new-gadget smell, because those are scientifically fabricated to infuse us with a sense of longing. While the smell may be pleasant, it is manipulative in a cynical way, a form of subconscious mind-control.
But a baby’s smell is natural, devoid of suspicious engineering, locking onto us without pretense or guile. It comes gently off the child to soothe and comfort us, and in turn help us comfort the baby. I think this exchange happens as a way to welcome the child into this world, to protect it from the brokenness. When we hold a child, there seems to be a part of us that not only hopes for a better future but can actually see one and believe in it, holding it out as a promise for the little one.
I’ve never really thought about it before, but if the baby Jesus must have smelled this way. He must have smelled sweet and hopeful, filling those around him with the notion that somehow the world was different because of his presence in it. Holding the infant Christ, there had to have been an interesting dynamic at work – an adult wanting to show this tiny child a world full of wonder and potential, and the child himself wanting to show that adult a world full of grace and beauty.
If the scent of a baby is innocence, then the scent of that babe in the manger must have been overpowering.
An infinite God you could hold in your hands.
Hope made flesh.
Innocence made real.
Put your head next to his tiny head and inhale deeply the smell of purity, undefiled existence, and feel your heart long for the same within your own soul. Feel the softness of his fat baby fingers and the down of his hair and marvel that to you a Savior has been born.
It is easy to reject the adult Jesus, what with his words and actions that convict us to our core, showing us truths about ourselves that we are too often uncomfortable with even knowing, let alone facing. But the baby Jesus, who smells so divine, does not give us reason for offense. We cannot come near him and feel disturbed. We kneel before the manger and feel a peace so deep and so true, that it echoes still 2,000 years later during the season that lauds his birth. Even those who reject him as a man are affected by his infancy. Even skeptics hum Christmas carols.
This is the power of that baby smell.
Innocence. Newness. Life. Hope.
The gifts of Christmas.