“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”.)
Merry Christmas Ray! As you probably expected I have to comment on this one… 🙂
You said, “Now remember that this was a King and a God who agreed to be born in a stable.”
Jesus isn’t A GOD. He isn’t A KING. He is King of Kings, He is Lord of Lords, He is the Alpha the Omega, He is the Almighty Father Made Flesh! He is our only hope, he is THE only God. He is not simply the first born son of God. He is the ONLY SON of God. He is the creator of ALL things. This includes EVERYTHING, not just this earth, or this universe. JESUS IS GOD and he should be HIGHLY RESPECTED AS GOD.
Romans 1, “19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen
I do agree with the overall concept of your pointed questions. I rest assured that not everybody is welcome in the LDS chapel (at least in my experience). How many times have you heard that someone needs to clean up their life before they can become an active member of the LDS church? We only have one judge. It isn’t the bishop it isn’t the congregation ITS JESUS. Only he can call me worthy or unworthy.
After reading my last statement again, I find myself fearing God… I’d much rather be judged by the standards of Men (or a church) than the holy standard of God….
Joe, this is a post about Christmas and the love of God, so I will let the bulk of your comments slide and not respond to the tone.
Merry Christmas, friend.
Great questions as statements Ray. Thanks for the post! I love your idea of the Kingdom of Nobodies. A big part of following Jesus is learning to see people and love them like He does.
Merry Christmas Joe P.! We love you even when it isn’t Christmas.
We actually did something like this when I was on my mission. One of the elders got some very old clothing (which we made sure were filthy beyond belief). We had an investigator that provided the beer for the aroma. I got to generously douse him with it.
The elder wandered in and was promptly taken down (to the floor) and hauled out of the chapel by the bishop. I brought him back in the side door and he sat down by our mission president. The bishop about passed out when the mission president stood up and introduced him as Elder ——-.
In this yuletide season we should remember that the “nobodies” that Christ came to save (sinners, publicans, etc.) were/are the ones who need(ed) it most. All of us fit into the sinner category at one time or another as well. How great is the joy in heaven when one sinner comes into repentance?
The church claims to help bring people unto Christ and to help them develop Christ-like attributes. If that is the case, how should the members of the church treat the “nobodies?” The answer should be a no brainer. The sweetest smell in church is the smell of repentance.
Doesn’t “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” mean something to you?
But on this post, there are certainly many things that need to change our church. Many people feel ostracized for one reason or another, both the active and the new visitor. Plus we have probably all heard the story of the new GA who visited a ward and was ignored, until people found out that he was a new GA!
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.
Excellent thoughts and I hope I don’t make it irreverent. I feel in our church we are in such awe of our leaders that we have sort of lost touch with reality. For example a bishop told me how a General Authority stayed in his very humble house and he ran him around in his very mediocre car and ate with his family and how it must have been so basically humbling and condescending for him to live for a weekend in these circumstances as he was a well to do man. Or isn’t great how are Stake President came and actually spent three hours helping us paint for helping hands. ( I’m sure its not like this all over but it’s a view maybe I see here). The point is they are one of us and what ever we do even though they our leaders have other responsibilities its not beneath them we shouldn’t be in total awe about it.
Here is the dodgy stuff – shouldn’t the above apply to Jesus we lived with him in the pre-existence we hopefully weren’t nervous to go and talk with him he was our brother we were buddies friends mates. Is it condescending for him even though he excelled above us to become a god to come and help his friends out?
“Is it condescending for him even though he excelled above us to become a god to come and help his friends out?”
Perhaps the amazing thing isn’t that God would want to help us out. He is God, after all.
Perhaps the amazing thing is that it is even possible in the first place for God to become “us”. We have at least one poster right here — representing a whole religious movement no less — that couldn’t accept this and felt the need to argue it wasn’t possible in very acidic terms.
But I have to admit I see his point. It really doesn’t seem possible for God and man to be one like that. Whether God would want it or not (as you point out He would) it seems like, you know, it’s just beyond God’s power.
And yet, somehow it did happen and is happening. Maybe this really is something to be in awe of.
Oh, one other thing, James. “Condescending” is a scriptural term in this context. It may not carry the same meaning you are thinking of in the way you are using the term. I’ve always felt it was meant to leave one with the impression of the seeming paradox of God becoming man. (Thus my response in #8 will make more sense now that I’ve explained that.) 😉
#9 – Thanks, Bruce, for that clarification. I will take is a step further, as the parser, and make an important distinction.
“Condescend” is a verb, but it also has a very different meaning as an adjective.
As a verb, “to condescend” means “to put aside one’s dignity or superiority voluntarily and assume equality with one regarded as inferior”. In that sense, Jehovah condescended to assume equality with us – to become “as one of us”, subject to all of our problems and suffering (include death).
As an adjective, “to be condescending” means “to deal with people in a patronizingly superior manner”. It means making sure others know of one’s higher status – that one is choosing to lower himself to deal with those who still are below him.
Iow, being condescending is the opposite of what is meant by Christ “condescending” to become as one of us. Christ lived as a servant – as the lowest and least important. He didn’t claim his rightful privilege as our Lord during mortality, and he didn’t “lord it over” those with whom he associated. He condescended to not be condescending, so to speak.
In my own words, he agreed to two manifestations of “at-one-ment” – first, by closing the gap that existed between us prior to his birth, and, second, by closing the gap that otherwise would have existed between us after our deaths.