For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
The Christmas story is not my own. I take comfort in the parts of it that make me feel welcome. Mary’s acclamation that God has brought down the lofty from their throne resonates with those who have been looked down upon by people in high places. The lack of space in Bethlehem, the humble shepherds, and the flight to Egypt make it easy to see Jesus as one who grew up as I did, poor and rejected.
Jesus the refugee raised in Africa has a certain appeal to it. There is nothing false in it. However, there can be a false way of appropriating it. This occurs when I fail to see the challenge presented to me in the incarnation. A distortion occurs when Jesus becomes a weapon that I wield against opponents. The humility and poverty of Jesus invite me to encounter the creator of the universe in the form of a child. When I seen in that story an affirmation of my own grievances, I cannot help but feel that I have missed something. Jesus saw this world as broken and he loved it anyway. The loss of love, especially for our enemies, distorts exegesis and makes a mockery of his humility.
The poverty of Jesus drew me to him, but I have been changed by the encounter. The infant king became a man. This man challenges me as much as he does the culture that surrounds me. The cross cannot be reduced to “an act of state sponsored violence” that I can appropriate to rebuke others. It is God’s work of reconciling the world to himself. I do not merely challenge the church or the culture with the gospel. I am caught up in the critique. None of us, not even those born poor, own Jesus’ story. The birth of the Messiah is God’s moment, and like the shepherds, the first response is worship.