“If you tell a fib, you’ll make the Baby Jesus cry!” “If you don’t share with your little brother, you’ll make the Baby Jesus cry!” What’s that about?
Maybe you grew up in one of the Southern states, perhaps even in the Bible Belt, and you’re familiar with the stern warning to “not make the Baby Jesus cry.” Whether this warning is on solid theological ground, I will leave to the theologians to debate. I am merely a humble lexicographer who can tell you that folks have been using this cutesy term since the 1980s.
Baby Jesus cry As in: make (the) Baby Jesus cry or don’t make the Baby Jesus cry. A metaphor for God’s displeasure or disappointment with something that someone is doing; a by-stander might say something like: “Stop making the baby Jesus cry” or “When you do that, you make the baby Jesus cry.”
• 1985 Sciascia The Wine-Dark Sea 33 : “You’ve made Baby Jesus cry. Every time you say naughty things, he cries,” said the mother. 2005 Van Pelt, Hancock The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis 133 : Youth workers are mandated to create sanctuaries for the poor, the weak, the blind and lame and sick—just the kind of people who are targets for bullies…. Don’t make the baby Jesus cry by allowing anyone … to harm those he came to redeem. 2008 Sinister Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos 57 : Christian children are often frightened with the weird line, “Every time you ______, it makes the Baby Jesus cry.”