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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Our Humble Messiah

By James Meredith
Dec. 23, 2012

It’s one of the most recognizable pieces of art in modern times. Painted in 1941 by Warner Sallman, The Head of Jesus has been reproduced half a billion times. It adorns the walls of homes around the world. The Savior’s soft, heroic features, bathed in a solemn glow, naturally draw the attention of all who see it.

Yet while the portrait captures the feelings of admiration and majesty we experience when thinking of our Lord, it falls far short of representing reality.

Scripture paints a very different picture of the One whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season. Our Jesus had none of the outward distinctions people look for in men of greatness. Instead His was a life characterized by pain, struggle and rejection. A humble life.

As we reflect on His simple birth and difficult road through those 33 years in Judea, we gain a better understanding of why He came — and, perhaps, a renewed gratitude for what the Incarnation really means to us.

An unusual beginning

Joseph understandably assumed Mary, who was likely less than 14 at the time, had committed a sin that carried serious consequences. It’s not hard to imagine the hurt Joseph must have felt. They were “pledged” to be married. This was more than an engagement; the couple had entered into a legally binding marriage covenant.

Joseph could easily have divorced Mary for infidelity. This would have left her without means of support, and with little hope of ever finding a husband.

The angel’s message changed Joseph’s heart (v. 20). Even so, he risked being seen as the father of a child conceived in impurity.

Early on, it was apparent that the Savior of the world would be raised in a family of courageous faith, but difficult circumstances.

Despite her impending childbirth, Mary accompanied Joseph on the 80-mile trip to Bethlehem. Some scholars contend that the apparent circumstances of her pregnancy may have brought a flurry of ridicule and rejection in Nazareth, prompting Joseph to take her along.

Not that the accommodations were particularly inviting in Bethlehem. Although our Christmas pageants seldom depict this, the stable was probably a cave used for livestock. It may have been a private facility belonging to someone in Joseph’s family, rather than a public motel. (“Inn” can also be translated “guest room” or “guest house.”) One can imagine throngs of relatives converging to fill every available space; perhaps the stable made for a logical alternative.

Regardless of the specifics, it’s obvious that Jesus entered the world amid a chaotic scene, and under harsh circumstances. Humanity is left to wonder, Is this really the  birth of a King? Does it provide a logical description of how God in human flesh would burst into a world He intends to save?

Consider the bigger picture as well. After the family temporarily fled to Egypt, as described in Matthew 2:13-18, Jesus was raised in Nazareth. Not the holy city of Jerusalem. Not the world-renowned metropolis of Rome. Nazareth was among the most obscure towns of the region — nestled in a far-off province of the Roman Empire, among a people group languishing under the thumb of a ruler they despised.

From all accounts, we can conclude that God chose the humblest of circumstances to initiate the salvation of the world. Yet these disadvantaged roots formed a higher purpose. A glorious purpose.

A Savior for all

As if the circumstances were not enough, the God-man himself walked this earth as the picture of humility. Isaiah 53:1-4 offers an unlikely description of a Messiah — one with no physical attraction or appeal. In fact, by human standards, He would repel those who looked at Him expecting greatness and nobility.

Similarly, Jesus adopted a most challenging of lifestyles. In Bible times, a carpenter such as himself would have enjoyed a comfortable income. It was the first-century equivalent of “middle-class” living. So when Jesus said in Matthew 8:20 that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, we realize He laid aside a comfortable living and willingly adopted an itinerant life.

Why would the Son of God assume this most humble and difficult road?

Jesus didn’t assume human flesh to become a celebrated king, but a Humble Servant. Rather than observe us from a lofty throne, Jesus came to identify fully with the human condition. He experienced our frailties, hurts and struggles. He felt the sting of rejection and ridicule. He even tasted the relentless pull of temptation, yet remained without sin. No segment of society, however obscure, forgotten or reviled, would be outside His understanding — or His care.

And this humble Servant is still among us today, meeting us at our point of need. Jesus is there with an understanding heart for the one whose faith is tested when she wonders how to make ends meet. He’s there with the prisoner sitting in a lonely cell, wondering if God can reach him. And He’s there offering hope and new life to the soul tormented by temptation, and memories of sins past.

John Newton could attest to this. Newton left home to become a sailor at the tender age of 11. Sadly, his life quickly devolved into a cycle of rebellion and debauchery. Several years later, Newton also engaged in the lucrative slave trading business that flourished during the 18th century. Although raised in a godly home, his friends took to calling him “the blasphemer.” He seemed as far from God as a man could be.

Of course, Newton is best known for what he later became — a devout minister who penned perhaps the greatest Christian hymn of all time: “Amazing Grace.” By then, he’d renounced his old life, even using his sordid testimony to illustrate God’s grace.

But while we know John Newton as a distinguished man of faith, Christ met him in his lowest and most profane moments.

Such is our humble Savior. No life is beyond His reach. He lived as a servant, enduring every struggle common to the human race. Then He suffered the humiliation of a death reserved for hated criminals. All of this came willingly, lovingly, to offer salvation for every soul who would follow Him.

An example to follow

Philippians 2:3-8 isn’t usually seen as a Christmas passage, but perhaps it should be. It says that Jesus made himself “nothing” (NIV). That’s the great mystery of this holiday.

But we cannot miss the rest of the story. Jesus humbled himself for a purpose: obedience to the Father in order to save a lost world. That’s why, when our Savior wrapped himself in flesh and joined humanity, huge crowds were drawn to Him. They weren’t attracted by His appearance or charisma. Rather, they saw a power and authority capable of transforming their lives.

Jesus lovingly reached out and touched the needy individual without regard to status: rich or poor, respected or rejected, saint or sinner. Humble servanthood was more than a creed or doctrine. Christ’s humility played out through loving action.

And, says verse 3, we’re called to practice that same humility. To put the needs of others above our own interests. To adopt His example of servanthood. We must empty ourselves of all ego and pride, to be replaced by God’s power at work through us on behalf of others.

In a sense, God’s love still shows itself in human form, as we reach out to those lost in sin, burdened by the cares of life, or crying out for the touch of the Savior.

This is the message of Christmas. Jesus laid aside His glory as God’s Son to meet us at our point of need. He came to give us hope in our darkest hours.

Wherever this holiday season finds you, gain hope and encouragement in knowing that the God who came to be with us is with us still. Then share that same promise all around. Celebrate the season with the greatest gift the world has ever known: our humble Savior.

JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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