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Jesus: the incarnation of weakness

December 25th, 2003 by isaac · No Comments

Today we remember the birth of the Savior of the world, Immanuel�”God with us.” Last night Pope John Paul II spoke some simple yet beautiful words about the birth of Jesus Christ. He said, “What an unfathomable mystery is hidden in the humility of this Child! We would like to touch him; we would like to embrace him.” (read his homily here). That mysterious humility is what so captured Bono when he recently described Jesus as being born in “shit and straw and poverty.” (read more of Bono’s comments here). The enfleshed God made his first appearance in a place that smelled like cow feces! And that poor baby is supposed to be the Messiah? Now that is a scandal. It is interesting to note that God incarnated absolute weakness while the powerful ones of Israel were completely oblivious.

The second chapter of Matthew paints the stark contrast between the incarnation of worldly power and the incarnation of complete weakness. The chapter starts out with a simple prepositional phrase: “In the time of King Herod” (2:1). The era of history is not measured by the weak Jesus but, rather, the strong arm of worldly power. The particular time in history is located in terms of Herod not Jesus. All Jews order their lives according to the will of King Herod. It is the dominion of Herod’s earthly kingdom that provides the story that gives meaning to the peoples’ lives. The people do not control their own history. They are not free to direct their own future. Herod holds theirs lives in the palm of his hand. On a maniacal whim he can exercise his strong arm of military might and wipe out all new life in a poor city: “He sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under” (2:16). And it is this man, the incarnation of worldly power, who trembles with fear at the news of the advent of Israel’s Savior: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened” (2:3). It is the lowly Messiah who appears without majesty in “shit and straw and poverty” that shakes the foundation of Herod’s dominion. It is this baby human, “a man of suffering” (Isa.53:3), that “startles many nations” (52:15). Herod recognizes the political significance of the kingdom of the Messiah. He knows that the Christ�s kingdom will mean the end of his earthly power. In his position at the top of the world, Herod knows he must snuff out the embers of the Messiah’s coming kingdom before they spread like wild fire across his kingdom. Herod knows the reality of what the Messiah’s new kingdom means for his earthly dominion. If the Messiah comes, then Herod will lose control of his economic and political authority. It is for this reason that King Herod trembles in fear. It is for this reason that he must kill all the children in Bethlehem. It is for this reason that Herod cannot follow the lead of the wise men from the East and bow down to Israel�s Messiah�”the king of the Jews” (Matt.2:2).

For those in power like Herod, the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ cannot be anything but bad news if they understand that this weak baby will subvert all their earthly authority. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ relativizes earthly dominion. In Christ the people are set free from the bondage of Empire; the Empire cannot claim lives anymore. Caesar and Herod cannot control the destiny of the people who live in their land. These people are now citizens of a Kingdom that will be the end of all earthly authority. After battling the evil one in the desert, Jesus proclaims “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). Jesus brings a revolution and calls any who will listen to repent and join his band. Jesus calls for a change of allegiance. His followers are called to pledge their allegiance to a heavenly kingdom that will never end. For those in power the good news of the Kingdom of God is the worst thing that ever happened to them because they have everything to lose.

For the least of these, for those who are weak, the advent of Jesus Christ truly is good news. For those who suffer under the oppression of Empire, the Messiah’s subversive revolution is the hope of their reoccurring dreams. The kingdom of God is the daydream that gives them hope as they struggle under the Empire�s boot. For the weak the Messiah is the answer to their years of “wailing and loud lamentation” (2:18). It is the weak who pray along with John Paul, “O Holy Night, so long awaited, which has united God and man for ever! You rekindle our hope. You fill us with ecstatic wonder. You assure us of the triumph of love over hatred, of life over death.”

Will you permit this text in Matthew to interrogate your life? “In the time of America” with whom do you identify? Are you Herod or part of his entourage of “wise men” (2:7) who seek to sustain the authority of the Empire? Or will you make yourself weak so that you may be filled with �ecstatic wonder� at the “unfathomable mystery” of the “long awaited” Messiah who appeared in the most humble of places�in “shit and straw and poverty.” It is the weak who have eyes to see and ears to hear the good news of the kingdom of God. Have you made yourself weak enough that Jesus’ kingdom is hopeful? Does the thought of our humble Savior so move you that you long “to touch him�to embrace him”? Have you squelched the burning hope for something better�that spark of hope that cries out from the depths of your being�with the entrancing water of worldly realism that says you must give up on your imagination and seek to make the best of what the system has to offer? I plead with you, don’t let the world kill your Kingdom imagination�don�t give up hope in the Kingdom of God. Don�t doubt the revolution that Jesus Christ started and sustains in his Church. Pray to God that he will help you discern the difference from the kingdom of humans from the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Are going to join the great cloud of witnesses who “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they say and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them”? (Heb.11:13-16)

Tags: theology