Thursday, December 27, 2007

A humble God

A couple years back, Fox had a TV show featuring two upper class wealthy socialite girls who agreed to relinquish the accoutrements of their upscale life: their chauffeurs, BMWs, cell-phones, credit cards, trust funds, and fashionable clothes. They did this in order to experience the decidedly downscale life of a more normal person. The show was called The Simple Life, and starred Paris Hilton, the Hilton Hotel heiress, and Nicole Richie, the daughter of ‘80’s crooner Lionel Richie. They dressed in semi-normal clothes, and got jobs doing a variety of things like dairy farming, sausage making, cattle ranching, working in a hair salon, and serving as hotel maids. It was designed to be a comedy and was played for laughs as the girls were totally incapable of doing a variety of things that a lot of the rest of people are able to do without thinking. I never watched the show, but I remember thinking, when it was on, “Why would someone who already has plenty of money ever agree to do this? I don’t need that much humiliation, never mind having it broadcast on national TV.”

And yet, the contrasts between even that human example what God did for us in Christ couldn’t be starker. I mean, think of it this way: Paris Hilton is heir to a family fortune worth $300 million dollars. She only has to “suffer” through life as a normal human for the few weeks it took to shoot each season of the TV show. And even though she is, for the purposes of the show, living like a “regular person,” everybody both on the show and watching it knows that, in actual fact, she’s a rich hotel heiress with access to more money and power than most of us can even imagine. But this is far beyond that. When Jesus came into the world, he gives up everything permanently, for the entire duration of his time on earth. Philippians 2:7 says “he made himself nothing.” The original Greek literally reads “he emptied himself.” Even though, as the Bible says, He was and remained God, he didn’t cling tightly to the power and prerogatives that He deserved and enjoyed as God. Instead He gave up the independent exercise of all of his divine power, and submitted its use entirely to the will of God the Father. The God who created time became subject to it, and experienced life as the same succession of moments with a past, a present, and a future, just like we do. The God who made the universe by his Word got tired and hungry and needed sleep and food. And He who had since time immemorial ruled the universe from a throne surrounded by singing angels crept into the world as the child of Jewish peasant girl.

Instead of royal robes, the King of Kings was wrapped in rags laid in an animal’s feed trough. And if it weren’t for the angelic announcement, there would have been no worshipers of the newborn king. As it was, the only ones present to worship Him on the night of his birth other than his parents were a bunch of smelly shepherds, since the Magi wouldn’t show up for several more months at least. And He who determines who will rule and who will not has to flee for his life with his parents due to a jealous king who can’t abide the thought that anyone should rule in his place.

Philippians 2 also says He who was in very nature God got a new nature, that of a servant of God, a man. And while he retained equality with God, he became just like us, made in human likeness. It’s amazing for me to contemplate. A God who grows up, gets pimples, and learns a trade. He who hung the stars in place learns to saw and shape wood and pound nails as a carpenter. And on top of all that, during His time on earth, virtually no one recognized him for Who He was. In fact, at one point, members of his own family came to lock him up, because they thought He was crazy. And then, in one of the supreme ironies of history, the God who loved man enough to become a man is killed by the men he came to save.

All of this raises the same question in my mind that the TV show, The Simple Life did. Why would somebody who has all of that power, wealth, and glory agree to undergo that much public humiliation? In Paris Hilton’s case, I think the answer is that she considered the notoriety and the money and the potential for more of both to be worth the sacrifice to her dignity. But why would God be willing to undergo the sacrifice to His dignity. Apparently because He considered me and every other person who would place his faith in Christ to be worth it.

And knowing that, there is nothing I can say to appropriately respond.

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