Love without limit

Of humble birth, Jesus lowered himself to lift us up

Dec 7, 2015 by

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Jesus said God is like a shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 to search for one lost sheep. The message is clear: God loves us as individuals. It is amazing enough that the Almighty cares about humans collectively. To love personally is greater still.

But how can anyone — deity or human — love another personally unless they have met face to face? That is what happened when Jesus was born.

People had interacted with God before. God even spoke directly to some of them. But something was missing.

People didn’t really know God personally. A voice from heaven or an angel’s visit inspired awe and obedience. This was good, up to a point. But God had something more in mind. Something that would take his relationship with people to a whole new level.

God decided to let us meet him in person. God knew there was only one way to get humans to really understand who God is. We needed to see what God would do if God were a human being. A human being who felt pain and temptation, love and longing, just as we do.

Phil. 2:7 describes Christ’s acceptance of human limits: He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson writes of these limits in her new book, The Givenness of Things: “The disciples must have asked themselves — Why did he sometimes suffer hunger or thirst? Why did he not calm the world’s turbulence as he did the sea’s, with a rebuke? Why did he have to die? What enlightenment could come to him by fasting in the wilderness?”

Robinson answers that Jesus chose the life of a pious man, an obedient son of Abraham, so that he could reveal “cosmic truth . . . in a form presumably most accessible to us, a human presence, a human life. That he should have done so is an absolute statement of human value.”

She continues: “What would make the Incarnation with all it implies credible, even necessary? Reverence toward human­kind.”

By becoming human, Jesus showed we matter to God. Like every single sheep matters to a shepherd.

Why was Jesus not more godlike? By accepting human limits, he became a model for human life. He humbled himself to lift others up. He turned people’s lives upside down. Fishermen dropped their nets to follow him. A tax collector stopped stealing and started giving. The blind and the lame rose from despair to praise.

His limitation freed them from their limits. It guided them to lives of hope and meaning.

Christ’s humble life embodies a paradox: He both refused to act like God and did act like God. Tempted in the wilderness, he disdained the power he could have commanded. Instead, as Robinson puts it, he showed love and respect for humankind by “remaining an ordinary man to every mortal eye.”

What could be more limiting than becoming a baby? But this is what God did, working the miracle we celebrate at Christmas. Jesus honored us with his presence, limiting himself to lift us up. And showing that each one of us matters to God.

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