We are naturally drawn to the flash and drama of a powerful savior. The Chicago Bears fan base has been abuzz recently with their addition of the highest paid defensive player in the NFL—Khalil Mack (7yr/$154m). Similarly, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking forward to testing out their own expensive weapon against their foes in the NBA, LeBron James (4yr/$154m). Both players pitched their services to their new bosses in their respective sports on the basis of their power and influence. In their interviews, they both basically said, “Yes, my services are expensive, but you can’t afford not to hire me. I can do what no one else on earth can do. And if you don’t hire me, I’ll go play for your opponents.” Both of those teams agreed.
But it isn’t just sports teams that look to a powerful savior. We also look for a strong military and a strong economy to protect us from harm and poverty. The history of U.S. elections shows that we are quick to trust the candidate who says he or she can save us from our adversaries. Inside, we fear that our peace, security, and morals as a people are at risk if the other side gets in power. We think we need a mighty deliverer. So we look, not to a weakling, but to a strong leader who can save us from our perceived enemies.
We live in a dog-eat-dog world where the strongest survive the longest, and having the strongest dog on your side seems like the surest way to survive. Life has taught us this truth, so we look for saviors to protect us. But this is what makes Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth so remarkable. Jesus doesn’t present himself to us as a strongman savior who intimidates his enemies. Rather, he comes as a child—one who, on the surface, seems remarkably insignificant.
To be sure, the angelic proclamation of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the field must have been a visually striking scene. After all, it isn’t every day that the army of heaven suddenly appears and gives a birth announcement for the Savior of the world. This was a big deal! But compare the angelic proclamation to the scene in Bethlehem.
There’s no welcome party for Mary and Joseph. There’s no hospital, no well-trained physicians, no comfortable bed, no climate-controlled room, no hypoallergenic bedding or clothing. Instead, we have a man and his pregnant fiancée who had to make a long journey to pay their taxes, who arrive at their destination only to find out that there is nowhere for them to stay, and who then realize that they aren’t just on a nice vacation to go pay taxes (always a desired vacation activity), but are now going to give birth to a baby.
The extravagance of the angelic proclamation just doesn’t seem to fit the human circumstances of this baby’s birth. The angels thought the birth of Jesus was something so momentous that is was worth celebrating, but the people around Mary and Joseph didn’t even set aside a room for a pregnant woman to give birth in. To them, this was just an insignificant baby (Isaiah 53:2-3) born to an insignificant man and woman (Luke 1:48) from an insignificant town (John 1:46).
This is how Jesus presents himself to us—as a baby. He came to save the world, but first, he’ll need his diaper changed. He will perform many miracles one day, but first, he’ll need to get through puberty. He will have the name that is above all other names, but first, he’ll just be known as that one son of Joseph (Luke 4:22). This Son of God, who is existent from eternity past, revealed himself to his creation by humbling himself, by presenting himself as anything but significant.
This gets to the heart of what the gospel is. It is the good news of God lowering himself to serve us, by living like us, by suffering like us, and ultimately by dying for us, so that we might be restored to a right relationship with him and properly worship and serve him as the one who is above all others (Philippians 2:5-11). His significance as our Savior is only revealed to us when we first see him in his seemingly insignificant state. This is why the angels can proclaim about this seemingly insignificant child, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
But this Jesus was not just the Savior of those shepherds in Luke’s Gospel. He is your Savior too. He is your Messiah. He is your Lord. This baby boy, wrapped in insignificant baby clothes, was eventually stripped of all of his clothes and nailed to a tree so that you might be clothed in his spotless righteousness. This baby boy, lying in a manger, eventually laid down his life for you, so that one day, though you die, you can live forever in perfect peace with him and with all those on whom his favor rests. He may seem insignificant, but he couldn’t be more significant for me and for you.
Matt Rieniets is a second year Master of Divinity student at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.