“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 loving those Jesus loved?”
“Are we serving those Jesus served?”
“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? What if a gay couple walked through the chapel doors, holding hands? What if someone showed up in a tank top and shorts, with tattoos and multiple body piercings?”
“Would we put our arms around them – or would we scoot to the other end of the pew – or would we ask them to stay in the foyer as we worshiped in the chapel?”
“Are we inviting these people to worship with us, and are we bringing them with us when we arrive?”
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 who 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.
(This post was inspired by Brad Kramer’s “Thoughts on the Meaning of the Birth of Jesus”.)