When the atheist assumes that he must empirically witness an unquestionable display of God’s power, leaving no room for doubt – he is tipping his hand, as to what kind of God he would be. Imagining he’d be a benevolent potentate, ever flexing his muscles, on full display, beyond a shadow of a doubt – he’d damn well make sure you knew he was God. Because, after all, what’s the point of having all that power, if you don’t show it? For the atheist, this is the kind of God that logic and reason demands – one that can’t be denied.
And this is precisely what makes the nativity narrative so perplexing for the atheist – there’s no great fanfare, no awesome displays of power . . . just another poor child, born into a cruel and pitiless world. So when Jesus enters this world under the scandal of a teenage pregnancy, born to impoverished parents — this could hardly have been the advent of the King of Kings. Because surely if God exists, he doesn’t need to enter the world in this specific way – so why did he? Why not simply pronounce his intentions accomplished, and impose his will on his creation?
Powerful leaders aren’t known for willingly subjecting themselves to this type of degradation. Sure, they might on occasion, strategically feign a lowly and common demeanor, as a sort of photo-op, to create the illusion that they’re just like one of us regular folks. But the entire life of Christ is scandalous, from his prosaic birth to his public execution. So the life of Christ isn’t simply humble – it is conspicuously antithetical to what we might expect. So instead of an aloof condescension, Jesus chose to identify intimately with our struggles and hardships.
So when we come to Matthew 26: 6-16, we find a woman bringing Jesus a gift, much like the gifts of the Magi, gifts of great value . . . gifts of foreshadowing what was to come of Jesus. The woman anoints Jesus with this costly oil, to the objection of Judas who had calculated that the oil would’ve been better spent on the poor. And when Jesus not only defends the actions of the woman, but extols her spiritual perception – Judas, there and then, makes up his mind, to betray Jesus. Because Judas, like many today, think that poverty can be solved by nothing more than a redistribution of wealth . . . and clearly Jesus was working a different agenda.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” This is the agenda of Christ – to enter into poverty to be with us, to know us, allowing us to know him, that we may be made richer in such a knowing. This is the very template of how the world is to be engaged – that we would genuinely enter into the lives of those in need, allowing the grace and mercy of God to animate our hearts to be redemptively sacrificial. On Christmas, Jesus comes incarnate, as a gift to a world in great need . . . inviting us to go and do likewise.
So, how will you celebrate this Christmas?