Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Poor Sufferer

2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Lk. 2:1-7)

Why did God choose for the embodiment of the Logos a child born of a poor young woman? Why not someone wealthy and secure? If God is the Living God of Israel, the creator and initiator of all that was and is and will be then why not try and maximize the potential for impact and be incarnate in a human that would be the most easily respected and followed by the largest number of people?

I think the answer might lie in the reality of poverty and what poverty means, experientially, for one who is poor.

Of all humanity, the poor are more aware of suffering and consequently more apt to suffer in this world then the wealthy. Now, I don't mean to say that those not poor don't feel pain or loss or don't suffer for a time. But isn't there is a qualitative difference between the suffering of the poor and those who are not? This is also not to say that the poor always suffer either. But it is to say that the poor are more acutely affected by suffering since it is very near them (the vagaries of the world being what they are).

This then reveals the goodness of God and the Good News that is Jesus Christ and why we wait during advent for his birth. After thousands of years, God's chosen people were not the people that God intended and there didn't seem to be much chance that it would change.

In short they were sinful.

So in a move that every parent surely must recognize, God choose a different method all together.

God became human.

But not just human. God experience humanity through suffering and reconcile humanity through that suffering. In Jesus, God experienced the nuance that is humanity in all its beauty and ugliness. As the author of Hebrews writes:
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15 italics mine)

So this then gives God an experience into humanity that is possible no other way. God was one of us! God experienced the whole range of humanity. Moreover, the incarnation of God as human then gives us an insight into who he is. But not just an insight but the reality of God.

No other religion that I'm aware of has God becoming human as Jesus does. And for our salvations no less! To reconcile us to him. To experience God not as a distant idea but as a real live human being that we can relate to in ways the old Israelites never could with the God of the Old Testament. And to show fully the love of God in Jesus. In the end it couldn't be someone of wealth or power or prestige because that would have limited the extent to which God became, and experienced, humanity. It would have also limited us in our understanding of God and and his love for us and his love for all humankind.

Venite Adoremus Dominum.


  1. Of all humanity, the poor are more aware of suffering and consequently more apt to suffer in this world then the wealthy. Now, I don't mean to say that those not poor don't feel pain or loss or don't suffer for a time.

    I see where you're going. But I'm not for the "glorification" of the poor, or the idea that somehow the poor are intrinsically better than the rich, or better than anyone else for that matter. While the poor *seem* to suffer more than those who have means, if you ever look at the history of people who have won the lottery (what better way to get rich?) most of them ended up suffering terribly.

    It's not inherently virtuous to be poor, and it's not an inherent vice to be rich. While it is true that it is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God," most people omit the second part of Christ's statement: "With God all things are possible."

    I'm not trying to rain on your parade - I think you have a very nice write-up here. I'm just a little uncomfortable with a theology that "glorifies," if you will, the poor. Yes, it sucks to be poor, and I certainly wouldn't want to be dirt-poor (I'm not rich by any means, of course), but poverty is not a moral good in and of itself.

    I guess my point is that what matters is not that Christ was born materially rich or poor, but that He came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. If I am poor it is only because I have sinned; if I am rich it only is because Christ reigns victorious over sin, death, and the Devil.

    Nice icon.

  2. As one who has been poor (not destitute but certainly poor) I know there is nothing noble about poverty. Nor was there anything in my post that glorifies poverty. I am, however, glorifying the one who:

    "..though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" 2 Cor 8:9

    The point of my posting was that the divine had every opportunity to be any human being he wanted and *yet* choose to be poor. Why? I think to fully and truly be the unique savior of the world. One that could relate to our sinfulness even though he was sinless and yet still love us. One that through his experience as a human would be "God with us". One that would lead us to righteousness through his abundant grace. One would would free us from our sins.

    The fact that it wasn't a king like any rational person would expect of the God of the universe I think speaks volumes about how ardently God loves us and how truly miraculous is the birth of Christ.

  3. I agree with your last comment.

    I might also add that there are lot of things about the manner in which God chose to become man precisely because of the unique mission of Christ. You're right, Christ could not have come as a king because His kingdom is not of this world.

    I sometimes think about what would have happened if Christ had chosen to dwell with men today in the modern age instead of 2,000 years ago. Jesus the Babe in the manger in an age of the world wide web and tabloid journalism. How would He have been received? How would He have effected our Salvation? Would we have believed in Him?

  4. Oh by the way I forgot to add - somewhat off topic - that tonight we went to the service of the Great Blessing of the Waters... one of the priests celebrating with us was from Iowa City - he was a former LCMS member who went back and spent a lot of time studying the history of the early church. His investigations and subsequent study of the writings of the early fathers played a major role in his decision to embrace the Orthodox faith.