The Incarnation: A “Riches to Rags” Story

Awhile back my grandson, Christopher, found some ants in the family room. “Papa, come look at the ants!” he called. We got down on our hands and knees and looked at them. He said, “The ants are going to get me, Papa!”

“No, they aren’t,” I told him. “I’m going to get the ants.” I took a little paper towel, wiped them up and flushed them down the toilet.

Would you be willing to become an ant to reach the ants? I don’t think so. Yet God was willing to become a man to reach us. Jesus didn’t have a rags-to-riches story. Rather, he had a riches-to-rags story. He went from being a sovereign to being a servant. He went from the glory of heaven to a stable for animals. He went from a throne to a manger, and then to a cross. He gave up his place in heaven so we could have a place in heaven.

Jesus came at the appointed time, the perfect time. The Bible says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law” (Galatians 4:4 NLT).

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, she was ready to give birth at any moment. Every place was full, and when they came to an inn, they were turned away. Can you imagine? Talk about opportunity knocking. Here was a woman who carried in her womb God in human form, yet she and Joseph were turned away.

The Bible never identifies an innkeeper; we simply read there was no room for them in the inn. We assume there was an innkeeper. It would seem to me that this person was simply preoccupied. He had other things to do and was just too busy to make time in his schedule.

That is like so many of us today, especially at Christmastime. You could write three words on American tombstones: Hurried. Worried. Buried. We are the only nation on Earth with a mountain called Rushmore. We’re always rushing about. We’re bombarded with information on our smartphones, tablets and other devices that beep messages to us constantly. We wonder why we never hear from God. Sometimes it’s a good idea to unplug from all of it and turn it off.

I think in all of the busyness and clutter of this time of year, we might be overwhelmed. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30 NIV).

These are the words of Jesus to any person who is stressed out, any person who is under pressure, any person who is carrying a burden of any kind. Another version puts it this way: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest” (MSG).

To burned-out people Jesus says, “Come and find rest.” To stressed-out people Jesus says, “Come and find rest.” To people carrying the weight of their own sin, Jesus says, “Unload those burdens and come and find rest.” He offers that to all of us.

People say one of the problems with Christmas is that it’s commercialized. I get that. That is one of the problems, but I also think we have made Christmas too beautiful. What happened was beautiful, of course, but we have romanticized Christmas with our images of sleighs and snow and hot cocoa in front of the fire. We have romanticized images of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the animals in the stable and the wise men in coordinating colors, presenting their gifts.

Actually, the real story was raw. The real story was quite sad in some ways. Jesus was not born in a manger; he was born in a barn or a cave. It was cold and damp. He was not wrapped in clean sheets; he was wrapped in cheap rags. The stall where He was born would have smelled of straw and, quite honestly, feces. God incarnate was born on the dirt floor of a filthy cave.

For me that doesn’t diminish the story. It enhances it to understand the great sacrifice God made to come to us. Commentator R. Kent Hughes wrote, “It was clearly a leap down – as if the Son of God rose from His splendor, stood poised on the rim of the universe irradiating light, and dove headlong, speeding through the stars over the Milky Way to earth’s galaxy … where He plunged into a huddle of animals. Nothing could be lower.”

God became a little baby. He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent on a young girl. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”

God often comes to us in unexpected ways. He came to Moses in a burning bush. He came to the wise men through a radiant star. And he came to this Earth as a baby.

The Bible tells us, “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV).

God has come into our world. He sent a baby to save the world.

The innkeeper missed the greatest opportunity of all. Standing before him were Mary and Joseph. He should have welcomed them in. He would have had the privilege of having the Son of God born in his inn. Instead he dispatched them to a place where animals were kept.

Today God is knocking on the door of our lives. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20 NKJV). He won’t force his way into our lives. We have to open the door and invite him in.


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