Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Who for Our Sakes Became Accessible

"For your sakes, he became poor..." - St. Paul

This Advent, I thought about how much God gave up to enter our world in the person of Jesus Christ. I also thought about why He did it. He did it to become all people. To do that, he had to become one of us, and not just the "one percent", but the "ninety-nine percent". He had to choose the lowest common denominator. To that end, he had to enter the world poor. To be poor is to have neither resources nor status. God gave up both. Christ was born in a barn, with animals. He was born as a refugee.  In many respects he was born in circumstances similar to what a great many displaced people experience in the modern world.

To be poor is to be denied access. Access to food, housing, medical care, a safe environment, dignity, and social standing. There were many barriers to access in Jesus' day. Being a Gentile, Being diseased ("unclean"). Being a foreigner. Being a woman. These barriers were used by the elite to keep out the undesirables. However, it seemed that everyone who was barred from approaching God by the religious elite was welcomed by Jesus. In fact, breaching social and religious barriers was a hallmark of Jesus' ministry. 

From what we know, Jesus grew up as the son of a tradesman. For most of his life, he worked in the family business. His first recorded public appearance was submitting to John's baptism. This was certainly an act of humility, as the religious leaders of the time would not submit to John's baptism. This public act of humility was the first of many. Subsequent acts of humility would have the dual effect of distancing Jesus from the religious elite and drawing him closer to the poor and outcast. Jesus did not exclude the elite. But the elite excluded themselves: either they admitted no need of the prophet from Galilee or would not risk their social status to associate with him.

The birth of Christ was announced with the message of unrestricted access: "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people". Despite the message of open access, subsequent church history has more than enough examples of walls being built. Today, the same people-groups are excluded along with some new categories: race, gender-identity, the elderly, and the undocumented. However, the greatest barriers come from our comfortable but isolated first-world lives, our technology, and ultimately modernity itself. Differences of belief and social status still separate us as human beings and from God.

So if these barriers trouble us, what are we to do? This Christmas, might I suggest something different, non-traditional, and non-religious. Reach out to those who are otherwise forgotten. Buy a cup of coffee for the bell-ringer outside your grocery store. The person inside the gas station booth. Public safety personnel working the holidays. The homeless person holding up a sign at the intersection. Nursing home residents and workers. Acts of kindness chip away at the barriers, the walls separating people from each other. If you will permit yourself an open mind, ponder the meaning of Jesus' words: "If you have done it for the least of these, you have done it to me". Beginning with simple acts of kindness, you might find Jesus in the place you least expected to find him.

Merry Christmas