Recently, a co-worker asked whether we’ve reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief. I rattled off nine reasons why, if we’re honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I’m exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. Today, I'll explore reason number 3.
MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF
POINT 3: We believe that Jesus was born into poverty, oppression, and scandal.
I suppose God could have made his transition from God-out-there to God-With-Us in any number of ways. He could have come in some terrific deific apparition, could have materialized at the throne of Caesar and deposed him with the sharp edge of a sword. He could have come with any number of weapons for that matter; he could have come with a legion of foot soldiers, an aircraft carrier of tomahawks, and a squadron of fighter jets. He could have come with limitless wealth, illimitable power. God of Isaiah, he could have blown upon humanity with atomic breath, could have watched all mankind whither like the field grass. (Isaiah 40)
Instead, Emmanuel joined the family of oppressed humanity. And not only did he come screaming into a people living under the strong arm of Roman subjugation, but he was born into a Jewish world controlled by the crazed king Herod, the leader who had ordered every potential newborn Messiah murdered.
As if were not enough for God to appear in the midst of this sort of systemic double oppression, he came in poverty and scandal. He immigrated from heaven to earth through the womb of a virgin girl, an innocent who'd never known a man. "Virgin? Innocent?" the women might have gossiped about Mary in those days. Servant of the Lord, though, she ignored this third sort of oppression--the tyranny of the scandalous pregnancy--and was obedient to the humiliation of bringing our Christ into God's world. On the stable floor, her humiliation reached its apex, and she pushed through hard and fast contractions as Jesus' crown-worthy head entered into the smell of sheep dung and new straw.
Over the course of history, people have asked whether this whole born-of-a-virgin thing was really all that important. I might ask a similar question: was birth into poverty, oppression, and scandal really that important? For those of us who believe the good story of God-With-Us, we know that the answer to both questions is critical. It's only through the scandal, oppression, poverty, and tyranny that we see that God embodied the with us of Emmanuel. Here, we see a God that is like the bulk of humanity, a God that choses to make his home with the underdogs.
This Advent, I've been considering the beautiful scandal of Jesus' coming. And in considering it, I've been asking these questions:
If Jesus were to come today, where would we find him?
Would he come to the suburban middle class of America?
Would he come as a member of the United States Senate or as the strong-armed chief of police?
Would he come as a powerful businessman, as one who can buy and sell all fungible people?
I don't suppose he would. I suppose he'd come an immigrant, a member of the oppressed and scandalized. He'd come poor and without power. He'd embody the second-class citizen, and would run in circles too dirty for the whiter-washed. And if this is true--and I believe that it is--it begs the question: if Jesus were to come today, would we recognize his coming?
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