Tag Archives: the poor

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

jesus-poverty

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heaven breaking though to earth…

DR view

two weeks ago a team of 25 others and i, from the inner city of LA’s eastside, went down to the dominican republic for about 9 days for a mission trip. we went in hopes of being used of God to bless others and see him at work in another country…and in turn, as it always turns out, we were blessed by the people we met there.

it was indeed an amazing time. the locals led us and we learned from them as we did various outreaches in neighborhoods in santiago.  we dug some trenches, listened to life stories, prayed for people, participated in healings & exorcisms, and shared Jesus. we met some brothers and sisters of our heart, even though not of our blood, and made eternal friends in Jesus.

one experience in particular comes to the forefront of my mind, especially relevant in light of the tragedies and tensions of our nation in this past week. at the mission house where we were staying there is a little haitian man who only speaks creole, named luis, that takes care of the house (to give you some background, the domincan republic is not a wealthy country as it is but it shares a border with haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. even with centuries of conflict between the two countries, many haitians have come to the DR seeking work to send money back to their families.  needless to say, there is much discrimination and oppression against this darker skinned marginalized people group).  luis only knew some words in spanish but would greet us every day with smiles as he closed the doors behind us and cleaned up after us.

our last night we had an amazing time of receiving words of blessing and prayer from the DR team.  as we were taking pictures with each other and saying our good-byes, luis hugged me…for a long time.  but it didn’t feel awkward.  then he moved into placing his hands on my chest and back and began praying for me in simple spanish….a language that is not native to either of us as i am a japanese-american man.  he was the last person to pray from me in the DR.  i who went to DR as the missionary, the pastor and literally the servant of the house we were staying at was praying for me.  yet, in his simple prayers the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully.  i felt in that moment that all else faded away, God was reminding me of the good that he is doing, and i felt like i was in the very loving arms of God as i was in the arms of this small haitian man that society thinks is worth nothing and no one would suspect would be a mighty vessel of God’s presence.

if i didn’t open up because this person was different than me, i would have completely missed what God had for me.  any difference between us whether it was what language we spoke, what race we were, or what social class either of us were did not separate us but rather highlighted the power of God that could bring us together in understanding and peace at that moment.  i sensed God telling me not to miss this moment as it is a piece of heaven happening right here on earth. only the Kingdom of God can break through ALL barriers of separation.  

Father, may Your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  

to my dear asian american brothers and sisters (an open letter)

i am writing to you as a fellow asian american.  i am writing to you as a fellow believer in Jesus through whom i also believe we share a special bond and understanding.  

i’ve been meaning to write this letter for some time.  i know it is not common in our custom to address issues head on but i am compelled by the model of our prophets and our master, Jesus, to call things out in our community, in us, in me before we find it is too late.  i believe we as a people have developed a blind spot in our faith: we are ignoring Jesus in ignoring the least of these.  

yes, i know i am speaking in generalizations.  there are certainly exceptions.  there are those fellow asian american brothers and sisters who are suffering in poverty and isolation as perpetual foreigners in america.  there are those of our asian american brothers and sisters who are laying down their lives to love the least, the last, the lost.  however, please, let us not be so quick to make ourselves (myself included) the exception.  let us take the time to fully consider the ramifications that we as a race in america are the most educated and most wealthy of all.  and from the ones much has been given much will be required.

why, am i saying that we are ignoring Jesus? i’ve pretty much grown up in the asian american church and have been cared for so well by my family in Christ.  however, in the past four years through my study of scripture, I have become convinced, that loving those in need is ESSENTIAL to being a follower of Jesus and is a fruit of true salvation.  by those in need i don’t simply mean those within our family, friends, and race (who even non-believers know to love) who may periodically be in such a place but rather those beyond our family, friends, and race (the people we don’t consider our “neighbors”) who may persistently be in such a place.  sadly, this kind of love has not been the tenor of what i was taught from the pulpit or modeled in the lives of my asian american brothers and sisters in the fellowships that i’ve been a part of.  

what does loving those in need, those that are different from us, have to do with ignoring Jesus? there is a terrifying passage found in matthew 25:31-46 that captures much of what i am addressing.  Jesus says that we will be in for a rude awakening when we see Him on that day to discover that in ignoring the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner we have ignored Jesus.  He says “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  so closely does Jesus identify with the least in society that to disregard them is tantamount to insulting Jesus himself.  

we, as asian americans, work so hard to not find ourselves in such situations of need (which is a great thing) that we get as far away as we can from those who still find themselves in such situations of need (which is NOT the mission of Jesus).  i believe we as asian american believers have been so careful not to commit sins of commission (doing bad) that we have fallen into the sins of omission (neglecting good).  Unfortunately, the consequence for such neglect is not just a slap in the face to Jesus, it is eternal damnation!  again, i must clarify that i don’t believe Jesus is saying we must do good works to be saved but rather that we are saved to do good works.  good works is not the root of our salvation but it is the fruit of our salvation.  if we claim to know Jesus, we must know the heart of Jesus.  

i am saying this just as much to myself as i share this with you.  

i am grieved.  

yet, i am hopeful.  i am amazed by the way our people care for our own families.  the sacrifices our parents make to see we are provided for.  i am a recipient of such love and hope to love my children in such a manner. I believe God has put that into our culture.  

but what if we obeyed Jesus and loved our neighbors in need like our own families?  what if we loved our neighbor’s children as we did our own?

then the kingdom of God has come upon us.  

let us not ignore the cries of the least of these.  let us not ignore Jesus.