Christmas is the Compassion of God

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My beloved brethren:

This very day in David’s town your Savior was born – Christ the Lord! You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough.

But why will we find this baby in a feeding trough? Why will we find this baby, who is Christ – “Messiah” – the Anointed King of Israel – found in a feeding trough in a stable and not in a palace? Why is this baby laying in straw in a basin used to feed common barnyard animals and not in a golden crib or soft bed fit for a king?

This Savior, who is Lord – the Old Testament word for the God of Israel – the word we still use wherever the name of God is written in our translations of Hebrew Scripture. Why is this LORD and Savior – attributes ascribed to the All-governing, omnipresent God of Israel—lying in a stable?

Christians state each year that this baby is God incarnate – God who comes to us “in the flesh.” So why is this God of the universe coming in the flesh in such an unlikely way for such an important person?

It seems logical to assume that if God were going to choose a family into which to be born, He would choose the Emperor’s family. Augustus, the first of the Roman Emperors, was the most powerful man in the world. Wouldn’t God come to us in the form of an Emperor’s son? Wouldn’t God come in the form of an Emperor, or heir apparent?

If not the Emperor, then why not the son of Herod the Great, King of Judea? It seems logical to assume that an Anointed King of Israel – the meaning of the word Messiah – would be born to the king of the region. Yet, He is not.

Ironically, the best way to die young in this period of history was to be born into either Augustus’ or Herod’s family. Augustus had bad luck, or so it seemed. Everyone he favored to be his heir died, often in mysterious ways. Some say his wife, Livia, murdered them all so that she could clear the way for her son, Tiberius, to become Emperor after Augustus. So if Jesus were born into the Imperial family, there is no reason to think that he would have survived any better than any of the others.

The same is true for Herod the Great. Herod was paranoid that his sons were plotting against him, and often for good reason because on many occasions they were plotting against him. So he had most of his sons executed. He killed so many of his own sons that Augustus once remarked that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son.

ImageThis very day in David’s town your Savior was born – Christ the Lord! You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough.

Jesus was born poor and out of the way. He was born to working-class parents. His bed was a pile of straw in a feeding trough. His attendants were animals and shepherds. This is how the God of the universe took on flesh! This is how the Savior, the Messiah, the Anointed King of Israel, the Lord, chose to come to us.

The most important birth in the history of the world was happening, and the most important people were not invited. The most important birth in the history of the world was happening, and the most important people were not told about it. The most important birth in the history of the world was happening and the Emperor was not present; Herod was not there; the Governor had no clue, but God told shepherds – the poorest of the poor, the despised, those who were generally regarded as grifters and con men –shepherds! These are who were invited.

When God came to us in the flesh, Emperors, kings, governors were not invited. When God chose to become a man, when God chose to be one of us, to live with us, to laugh with us, to cry with us, to go through the same temptations, pains, joys, hardships, and death – when God chose to be “God with us” and be born within the same limitations and confines of human existence, God invited a working-class man, an unwed mother, peasants, con men, and barnyard animals.

AND THAT BOLDLY DECLARES SOMETHING ABOUT WHO THIS GOD IS!

                God sides with the lowly, not just because it helped foster his survival until Jesus was old enough to do what He came to do, but because most people who have ever lived, have lived lives of quiet desperation, working and dying, trying to put enough bread on the table to endure another day of toil, hopefully leaving something lasting behind –a name, some sons, a building, but ultimately forgotten after a few generations at most. Most people are anonymous, will remain anonymous, and die anonymous. These are the people God chooses to identify with when He came to us in the flesh.

Jesus Christ is God’s compassion made tangible and expressed in real terms. Compassion means “to suffer with.” What compassion is not is empathy. Compassion is experiencing what another experiences, feeling what another feels, walking a mile in their mocassins and living their life for a while. And this is what God did in Jesus Christ. God just doesn’t understand what we are going through; God doesn’t empathize with what we are going through; God experiences it, God feels it, because God went through it too.

God didn’t come to us as God in disguise, like in the Greek myths when Zeus looks human so he can walk among mortals and meet women. God comes to us as one of us, living the same life that most of us live –struggling, poor, trying to put bread on the table. So the Christmas story is a story about compassion. It is the story of a compassionate God who comes to us in the flesh because when God feels compassion, God has to act; just as when Jesus felt compassion, he was moved to act; just as we should be compassionate, and our compassion should compel us to act.

Christianity is a religion about a humbled God—a God that was humiliated and brought low; a God that humbles Himself on the cross, a God who begins that journey in a stable, in a feeding trough, born among the lowly, and who lives among the anonymous masses. We cannot understand this God if we are unwilling to understand humility—we cannot know Him if we refuse to know humility. We cannot understand Christmas if we refuse to accept humility. For the love of God compelled God to come to us in our lowly state, so that He might raise us up to His; Christ shared in our humanity so that we may come to share in His divinity. The cross of Christ is the clearest picture of the humble love of God, which is first revealed to us in His lowly birth in a stable.

The love of God that dwells within us, if indeed it does dwell within us, must reflect the humility of God, expressed in a poverty of spirit that only truly loves when there is nothing to gain in return for that love. Yet that love that offers us nothing in return, is the love that guides, nurtures us, and ultimately leads us toward eternal life with Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit –one God forever and ever.

A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” “Prince of Peace.

This very day in David’s town your Savior was born – Christ the Lord! You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough.

Grace and peace to you, and Merry Christmas!

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One comment

  1. […] Christmas is the Compassion of God (rjowles.wordpress.com) […]

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