The Christmas scene is so well-known to us that it’s difficult to say anything new about it. In some ways, this is a disadvantage, since familiarity breeds contempt. Most of us lost the wonder and surprise it should inspire long ago.
However, it’s worth making the effort not only to see the well-known events, but also to ask ourselves why. What message was Christ trying to send us by being born in a cave or stable because there was no room in the inn? What a humiliation this must have been for Mary and Joseph who, like parents everywhere, had probably been carefully preparing for his birth. Why should this have been wished upon them? And why, on this momentous event in human history, are the only people who knew about it a handful of simple, uneducated shepherds who happened to be watching their flocks nearby?
One of the answers to these questions is contained in the word poverty. Jesus chose to be born in poverty and seeming abandonment to teach us that God does not need human means and resources to do his work.
But Jesus does call us to join him in his work of bringing love and salvation to the world. To do this, we have to rely not on ourselves, not on wealth, influence, possessions, or any skills we may have, but on God working through us. The more we allow this, the more we do it in his way, the more effective we will be.
In choosing to be born poor, Jesus was not trying to glorify poverty for its own sake. The Bible condemns and rejects poverty as a scandal. God gave the earth and all it contains to everyone. Freedom from poverty is one of the signs of his kingdom where the hungry are blessed because they will have their fill.
The fundamental reason Jesus chose to be born poor, live among the poor, and die owning nothing is that love the theologians call kenosis, the emptying out of oneself, as St. Paul describes in Philippians 2:6–8:
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
And it was because of this that “God greatly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9).
In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul sums up and explains admirably why Jesus chose to be born poor:
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich.
Let us consider how we are rich out of his poverty.