Christianity is a religion of paradoxes, and one of the most paradoxical elements of Christianity is the incarnation, the idea that God became man, being born as a helpless child in the humblest of circumstances. Nativity scenes memorialize this event, showing a baby lying in a manger, which is nothing more than a feeding trough for domesticated animals. But Jesus’s birth is only the first of many paradoxes. At the other end of Jesus’s life is the paradox of the almighty God letting himself be taunted and tortured, and ultimately letting himself die an ignominious death by hanging on a cross. We do well to remember that Christianity turns many virtues on their head. Strength, pride and wisdom are replaced by weakness, humility and a kind of naivete or simple-mindedness. At this time of year when we celebrate Christ’s birth with lavish spending and gift-giving, we do well to remember that material things are golden fetters and that poverty makes us free to live a simpler, more spiritual life. The Son of God was born in a manger, and as He himself told a potential follower, he still had nowhere to lay his head. Jesus appears to be telling this man to count the cost of becoming his follower. Christmas might make us think that Christianity is nothing but sweetness and light when in fact it’s incredibly difficult to be a good Christian.
“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’” —Luke 9:57-58 NIV