Sunday, December 28, 2008

His Kingdom of Nobodies

Excerpted from "Thoughts on the Meaning of the Birth of Jesus"

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we… are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled…And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again…. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him…And Herod…was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under…”
—Matthew 2:1-11

"One of the most striking elements of story outlined above from Matthew’s gospel is the sheer cruelty of Herod’s reaction against a perceived challenge to his power—his willingness to indiscriminately slaughter untold numbers of small children to root out the threat. The violence is especially shocking to us today, because we live in a world in which children enjoy a historically unique position of social status, legal protection, and general affection. Yet the ancient world into which the Savior was born was vastly different from ours, and the difference is thrown into sharp relief by the truly precarious status of children—particularly infants—in the peasant society of the Palestinian countryside. A child, writes New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, “was quite literally a nobody unless its father accepted it as a member of the family rather than exposing it in the gutter or rubbish dump to die of abandonment or to be taken up by another and reared as a slave.” In that society, “a child was a nothing, a nobody, a non-person.”

If (Jesus' kingdom) is indeed a Kingdom of little children, “Jesus is, in a profound way, also saying that his is a kingdom for all those whom the world considers to be ‘nobodies.’ And in Jesus’ world, that meant the poor, the sick, the slaves, the sinners.” By focusing His message of the kingdom on children, Jesus demolished the barriers that separate those who lack worth and status in the eyes of the world from access to God.

Christ’s kingdom of nobodies presented a radical challenge indeed to the rule of Herod ... for the mere suggestion of an order in which wealthy, educated, well-traveled men condescended to worship the child of peasants. The story of Jesus’ birth in the most abject of circumstances invites us to consider what kind of kingdom that momentous and celebrated event was meant to inaugurate; to ask ourselves whether labels we apply to each other to divide and marginalize (words like “liberal,” “conservative,” “gay,” “inactive,” “immigrant,” etc.) have any meaning in such a kingdom; and to ponder the genius of the Master, who brought us access to the Kingdom of Heaven both through His atoning sacrifice and by teaching and exemplifying the principles by which we might enter."


"Atonement" means "to make as one; to unify; to bring together what once was separated." When we speak of the Atonement, we generally focus on the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross of Golgotha (where He finished the steps to allow us to become "at one" with Him and Our Father), but we often fail to realize that an important part of the Atonement occurred at His birth - when He condescended to become "at one" with us. Think about that for a moment and contemplate what an amazing thing that is.

How many of you have ever been in a stable? How many of you have spent a night there, amid the straw and the stink and the flies? Now remember that this was a King and a God who agreed to be born in a stable. Not only did He descend below us all in His suffering and death, but He also started His life as one of the lowest of the low - a nobody among nobodies.

When we celebrate Christmas, at the most basic, fundamental level we are not marking a birth; rather, we are expressing our deep and profound gratitude for the reason for that birth - the love and condescension and grace of God that inspired the birth.

Returning to the concept of the place of children in His time, it is important to make one more point:

Under the ancient system of inheritance, the oldest son inherited everything from his father. Younger sons were left to establish their own inheritance for their oldest sons, and daughters had access only to the support of their husbands. In Romans 8:17, Paul taught that Jesus turned this tradition on its head, as well - opening the inheritance of His Father to all of God's sons and daughters to share equally regardless of familial order.

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So, as we contemplate the birth of Jesus, the question becomes, "Who benefited from this change?"

I submit that the primary group for whom Jesus was born was the group that became His kingdom of nobodies - the poor, the scorned, the publicans and sinners, the sick, the shepherds, the lepers, the lame. Everyone else had a "place" of acceptance within the society of that time; Jesus lived among, taught, loved and, most importantly, healed those others rejected and despised and marginalized.

As we celebrate His birth, we should ask ourselves a few very pointed questions:

"Are we serving those Jesus served?"

"Are we loving those Jesus loved?"

"What would happen if someone stumbled into our meetings (perhaps during the actual administration of the sacrament) reeking of alcohol or tobacco, in filthy, ragged clothing that smelled of the street and sat down next to us?"

"Would we put our arms around them - or would be scoot to the other end of the pew - or would be ask them to stay in the foyer as we worshiped in the chapel?"

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

As we celebrate Christmas, I hope we remember those who are homeless, abused, hungry, sick or alone. We share of our abundance with others who have abundantly, but do we bless the lives of those suffer the most among us? If we don't, I'm afraid we are missing the most fundamental lesson of His birth and subsequent life - and we are failing to build the Kingdom of Nobodies he lived and died to create.

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