My seminary professor, thesis advisor and friend has written a compelling book, recently released in time for this Advent season. In God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the Bible, Dr. Kreider traces the biblical story of God’s intentional interaction with this creation through his self-revelation that demonstrates his care, concern and particularly outreach to those who seem the most unlikely to be recipients of his blessings. I plan on doing a full review of the book both on this sites and others I contribute to. But for the time being I thought it appropriate to highlight how this theme comes through in chapter 6, “The Everlasting Incarnation of the Eternal Son” that recounts the story of Jesus’ birth and is quite the timely read for the Advent season.
Dr. Kreider points out throughout the book, and in chapter 6 especially, how God reached out to those who seemed to be beyond the acceptable crowd. He notes in the genealogy;
The ordinariness of his [Jesus’] family tree is made clear, particularly in Matthew’s genealogy. Rather than ignoring the disreputable characters in Jesus’ heritage, Matthew names them…When Matthew names characters, those familiar with their stories remember the shameful details. Perhaps more importantly, we remember that in all of these stories, God shows his grace and mercy to people who are outside the community of faith. These sinners who receive divine grace make it into the community of faith. These women are part of Jesus’ family. The child comes from a long line of unlovely people. When he comes to earth, when he becomes human, he identifies with these outcasts in order to save those who are like them (see Heb. 2) (115-6)
He recounts the story of Jesus’ birth, familiar to so many but provides a fuller dimension than your typical Christmas pageant version and goes beyond the unsavory circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy. The announcement to the shepherds is really compelling considering who they were;
These shepherds were not the well-groomed, clean, mannerly men and women who appear in church Christmas pageants today. First century shepherds were dirty; they spent their time outside, in all kinds of weather, taking care of sheep. They were ceremonially unclean; caring for animals, they dealt with injuries, illnesses, and other matters related to animal husbandry…Like the magi–although at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum–the shepherds were outsiders in Israel. The gospel is good news for outsiders and the disenfranchised, and on the day of Jesus’ birth this good news is announced to a representative group of this kind of people. (123)
He later points out their reaction in pronouncing what they have witnessed;
After worshipping him, they leave the stable and spread the word about what they have seen and heard, and ‘all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to the” (v. 18). Those who listened to the shepherds were surely those who shared their socioeconomic status; this is perhaps one reason they are amazed. The favor of God has come to those who were not generally understood in this culture to be recipients of blessing. The shepherds then return to their flocks, ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.’ (124)
Most compelling is fact that Christ, the eternal Son of God, left his heavenly abode, not to enter into the world in a spectacular fashion, but imperceptible, especially to the ones considered righteous at that time;
The teachers of the law are unaware of the birth of the Messiah when the magi arrive in Jerusalem (see Matt. 2:3-6). The incarnation of the Son of God, God come to earth in Jesus of Nazareth, was one of the best-kept secrets of human history. This secret could have been kept only if Jesus’ humanity appeared ordinary to those who saw this child. And, to be clear, this is exactly the point. His humanity was, and is, like ours. He is ‘of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted,’ as the Definition of Chalcedon expresses it. The Creator humbled himself to become a creature, fully God and fully human. (127)
Yes, this was the whole point. Jesus became ‘the other’, the unlikely, the one who would become us and demonstrate his love for the least likely. That is what Paul enforces in Philippians 2:5-8, compelling God’s people to “let this mind be in you which was in Christ.” It should challenge us on how we look upon others and compel us to consider the ‘least of these’, the ones that don’t seem like they have it all together or can obtain any kind of righteousness in their own merit. For only in Christ is our righteousness found. As a friend recently pointed out, “we are all thugs in God’s eyes.” But thanks be to God for his gift of redemption through Christ.