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“Behold, your king is coming to you . . . on a donkey”

Matthew 21:5

As we prepare for another Christmas celebration, we may wonder what it will cost us this year. Special gifts, special cards, special food, holiday travel — how much poorer will it make us?

The Role Of Poverty

Actually poverty plays quite a large role in preparing for Christmas, as it did at the time of Jesus’ birth. The people of Israel were poor in the sense that they were not independent, but under Roman rule. That cost them taxes for one thing. For another, it cost them travel expenses to obey the decree of Caesar Augustus and journey to their home-town to be enrolled. Joseph the carpenter may well have been in Nazareth in the first place because of poverty. It could be that there was not enough work in Behtlehem, while Nazareth, on the great trade route, offered more opportunity. Joseph and Mary were so poor that, after Jesus was born, they brought two small birds rather than a lamb to redeem their first-born.

Joseph and Mary were poor in their accommodations at Bethlehem, Mary having to give birth in a stable, wrap the newborn Child by herself in strips of cloth, and lay Him in a feed-trough. Of course, the stable may have offered them more privacy than the crowded inn, and it also gave the angel a sign by which to direct the shepherds. There might have been twenty babies in Bethlehem that night, but how many would they find wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger?

The shepherds themselves were not out in the fields at night because they were wealthy, but the angels did not mind coming as messengers to these poor men. The good news they brought was wine and milk for them without money and without cost (Isaiah 55). “Unto you is born . . . a Savior, Christ the Lord.”

Jesus also was poor when He was born. When Jesus grew up and entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to complete His work, we see more poverty. He comes not on a white charger, but on a donkey’s colt, borrowed. He had no receptionist screening His calls. He had no bodyguard with armor clanking and spears gleaming.

How Blest We Are!

How blest we are that this is so! For by ourselves we too stand before God in poverty, even if we are wealthy wise men. We have no continuing city. We have no earthly wealth that moth cannot corrupt or thieves break in to steal. The closest relative, the dearest friend, the happiest times — what do we have that cannot be taken away, and eventually is?

Even our Christianity, God’s gift by faith, has not been left untainted by our sinful human nature. Our repentance has not been as deep as it might have been. Our faith has not been as firm as it should have been. Can we count on God as our friend? Not because of our love for Him. That has been mixed with complaints and questionings, polluted by love of things and self.

Yet Jesus came in lowliness and poverty, not to glorify being poor, but in order to be with us. He lived in material poverty so that we might be assured that none of our poverty, material or spiritual, could stop Him from being our Representative before God, our Substitute in the face of judgment and destruction. He lived in our name the spiritually rich life of fellowship with God. He loved us and gave Himself for us that we might have peace with God, the Giver of all material blessing, physical resurrection, perfect health, and joyous life without end!

As we prepare for another Christmas, how much richer it will leave us!

See, my soul, thy Savior chooses

Weakness here and poverty;

In such love He comes to thee

Nor the hardest couch refuses;

All He suffers for thy good,

To redeem thee by His blood.

Joy, o joy, beyond all gladness,

Christ hath done away with sadness!

Hence, all sorrow and repining,

For the Sun of Grace is shining!

–Pastor Paul Schaller