who did he come for?
I don’t like to be needy. I want to be humble, but also noticed and respected. I have been in Christian “leadership” for forty years, and I have been privileged to start and serve at the Barnabas Center. I have taught Sunday school, led countless Bible studies and small groups, and served as an elder and pastor in the church. And despite all of that service to the needs of others, I still hate feeling needy myself.
So what does neediness have to do with Christmas?
This is the season we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the whole world, a King with humble beginnings. Jesus moved at age two to the backwoods of Galilee, which was the backwoods part of Israel. Nazareth was tiny. It had no commercial import. Most of its workers probably commuted to Sepphoris, about ten miles away. Jesus’ dad was probably a day worker paid an hourly wage to work really hard for “the Man.” No one in Jesus’ world needed to worry about the possibility of a wealth tax.
Once Jesus launched into ministry, He moved about mostly in this backwoods world of Galilee. Very few of His friends had means. He, like most of them, scratched out a survival living. And while many people in Jesus’ world responded to His message, two groups had real problems with Him: the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
The Sadducees were the Temple priests, including the chief priests who ran the Temple complex. They were culturally sophisticated. They were politically powerful. They were financially well-to-do, having leveraged their position to gain political and economic power, so they were the leaders in their church. They loved the theater, as well as some entertainment that was more questionable (think “naked mud-wrestling”). They were not needy.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the “separated ones” (that’s what the word means). They were the people most serious about their faith in God, those most committed to a life of obedience to the Law. They were virtually apolitical. They were not in the country club or at the theater. They were studying Scripture, writing commentaries, and telling others how to live life the right way. And while they despised the Sadducees, they weren’t needy either.
And then there was this large group of the lost, the least, and the last. They could be called the Losers. They weren’t respected. They didn’t have power or means. They didn’t, or couldn’t, live the right kind of spiritual lives. They knew they didn’t measure up to those in power, be it worldly or spiritual. They were a mess. They were the Losers. And yes, they were the Needy.
Again, what does that have to do with Christmas?
Baby Jesus was born one of them, a Loser. He was one of the lost, the least and the last. Those were His peeps, His buds. They were His world for his first thirty years, so it is no surprise that the original twelve disciples were comprised of them. They included fishermen and tax collectors, but Jesus would also hang out with Gentiles and prostitutes, women (!), and even lepers. Those folks, the needy, would leave what little they had to follow Him. Would any of us now be able to do the same?
Why do I—why do we—resist that Good News? After almost fifty years of following Jesus, why is it still so hard to give up power and face dependence? After all, He did say “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.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
Many of us at Christmas feel the urge to serve the needy. Something in us wants to give back to those without and that is a good thing. But my true takeaway is that Jesus came for those in need, so if I really want to understand and experience the true meaning of Christmas, I need to know the needy parts of my own heart. I need to recognize myself more as the lost and the least and the loser. I need to know my need for a Savior. I need to get comfortable being needy.
My prayer for us all this Season is that we can see and feel and face our need in a way that brings us to His rest, our Savior’s rest.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.