Love, Justice, and the Poverty of the Christ Child

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O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread!

Francis of Assisi, “A Letter to the Entire Order,” paragraph 27, in Francis and Clare, The Complete Works (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 58.

Like St. Francis, in his teaching on Christ and the sacraments, Martin Luther was fascinated by the way Christ appears “under a contrary.” In the manger, on the cross, and in the Lord’s Supper, the God of the universe appears where we would least expect. For Luther, hearkening back to the story of Abraham and the Letter to the Hebrews, this has to do primarily with the radical faith that clings to Christ and his promise where our eyes find little or nothing to see.

For Francis, the mystery of God hidden in poor, humble places has more to do with the social location of the privileged encounter with God. It is no accident that Francis chose to highlight this dimension of the Nativity story. This insight lay at the heart of his ministry with the lepers and new urban poor of his day.

Especially in his Christmas sermons, Luther also has a sense of the way in which the humble child calls us to renewed relationships with our neighbors:

Therefore since you have received enough and become rich, you have no other commandment to serve Christ and render obedience to him, than so to direct your works that they may be of benefit to your neighbor, just as the works of Christ are of benefit and use to you.

We find this same theme again and again in the great hymns of the Christmas season. Take, for example, the penultimate stanza of “O Come, All Ye Faithful”:

Child, for us sinners, poor and in a manger,

We would embrace thee, with love and awe;

Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

During the Twelve Days of Christmas, may we be renewed in our faith and in our commitment to the least of these. May we find ourselves enriched by the poverty of the Christ child, who “though he was rich, became poor for us.” (2Corinthians 8:9) And may we commit ourselves to share what we have and work, struggle, and pray for justice for all. For justice is what love looks like when it is lived out in public.

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is at here

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