Probably the most sign-ificant decoration we use to prepare our homes for Christmas is our nativity scenes. They come in all shapes, sizes and styles … but they all cause us to hearken back to a very awkward, humble experience.
It’s fitting, isn’t it? I’m thinking this morning about how different it would be if Jesus had been born in a palace, with the help of a professional medical staff. What if he was surrounded by public acclaim, being visited by religious and civic dignitaries? It wouldn’t make sense, would it? The entire trajectory of the incarnation – the glory of the most high God in the face of the humble, suffering Jesus – calls for the opening scene to play out just as it did.
We like looking at nativity scenes, and reflecting on the manger. But we don’t want to live out that reality ourselves.
In today’s 1 Peter text, we are charged to adopt a most-challenging posture in our relationship to the people we serve: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But…) if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called.”
This text is pretty clear to me, but takes an extraordinary faith to believe and obey. As Luther points out, when we are called to obey bad leaders, it’s a God-issue. “What your master or mistress commands you, that God himself has commanded you. This is not a human command, although it is made my man.. Therefore you are not to scruple … where you hesitate [in your obedience] you act not only against your earthly lord, but you sin against God and load yourself with the wrath of God … ‘hereunto you were called’ – that you should suffer wrongly like Christ.”
Called to suffer wrongly. Like Jesus. To reflect on the life of Christ is to recall inordinate, undeserved suffering. God wills that we remember it – hence the institution of the Eucharist.
But it isn’t just the cross where Christ suffered. He suffered his entire life long. And he certainly suffered at its beginning. Raised in a family of scorn in a putzy town like Nazareth was bad enough. To be obliged to go to Bethlehem in the ninth month of pregnancy, for the purpose of being taxed more thoroughly, just stinks. Born in a barnyard … then, the world unleashed its fury against him in the terrors of Herod. He spent his toddler years on an extended road trip to Judea, then Egypt, then back again. Where did they live? How did they survive financially? And why?
All of that suffering, inconvenience and indignation were part of the Father’s plan. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Pet. 2:18-23).
Our example, Jesus, got His earthly start in that manger nativity scene. As Luther says, “Whoever reflects on this must be a stone if it does not move him!” And, “Whoever is a Christian must also bear the cross; and the more you suffer wrongly, the better it is for you; wherefore you should receive your cross from God cheerfully and thank him for it … this is a pleasing and great thank offering before God and real divine worship.”
I haven’t received a Christmas Card yet this year that says, “Painful Christmas! Rejoice that you’ve been called to suffer unjustly to unfair leaders, and not retaliate! May God bless you with a suffering-filled New Year!” Maybe it’s time.
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