I also ponder our nativity set, the one we've had since early marriage. It's old and scratched and cute and looks a little like a child's first nativity. This year, I noticed there is one piece missing. You'd hope it would be something like one of the kings or a camel. But no. It's the baby. My nativity has an empty manger. Poor baby Jesus probably went out in all the wrapping paper last year.
I had my own grumpy George Bailey moment. Why do we have to have all these nativity characters anyway? Why do we not set up only a manger with Jesus in it? I confess that my first reaction was to find a baby Jesus and pitch the rest of the figures so as not to detract from the scene. But then...
...that whole cast of characters lends perspective to the sheer magnitude of the event. That whole cast of characters demonstrates what I've been seeing this year as our pastors preach through the book of Luke: the condescension of God.
Condescension has negative overtones, as in "Don't be so condescending," which usually means that we are looking down from our lofty place on all the little people. But when God condescended, He wasn't looking down; He was coming down among us--to be one of us, to feel the weight of our weakness and redeem us from our own evil. When humans condescend, it is arrogance, but when God condescends, it is a gracious and glorious humility.
My scripture reading is currently taking me through the minor prophets and through Revelation. Reading these with my defective nativity in the background has brought the Incarnation into sharper focus. The message of the prophets is consistent. Israel was unfaithful and rebellious. And God came in the flesh anyway. Israel looked just like the neighboring reprobate nations. And God came in the flesh anyway. Israel wasn't even interested in being saved. And God came in the flesh anyway. That's condescension.
Back to my nativity, the shepherds lend context to God's condescension.
The kings lend context to God's condescension.
Even the stable animals lend context, since all of creation groans.
And Mary and Joseph lends context--if we can get it right.
But unfortunately, a weird mythology has grown up around Mary. Mary was just an ordinary sinner in need of a savior. Following the birth of Jesus, she and Joseph raised five other children, the fruit of their marital intimacy. Then she died. If we change Mary's story from the Biblical narrative, we miss God's condescension to her. And that has far reaching implication.
To miss God's condescension in Mary's story is to make Mary bigger than she is and God smaller than He is. To make Mary bigger and God smaller is to call into question the reliability of the scriptures. To call into question the reliability of scripture is to call into question the reliability of the gospel.
Therefore, we need to be clear about God's condescension to Jesus' family. God condescended to Joseph in tasking this ordinary man to raise His Son. God condescended to Mary in tasking this ordinary woman to bear His Son.
And it just hit me. Mary birthed and Joseph raised Jesus to be both the final High Priest and the final Lamb of God so that we could be a kingdom and priests to our God. Wow! That's condescension to all of us! Just as God condescended to Mary and Joseph, He condescends to all on whom His favor rests to raise us up to make us a Holy Family of saints and priests.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for He has looked upon the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever. Luke 1:46-55
Merry Condescension to all my fellow saints and priests!