The incarnation of God was entrusted to Mary, a poor woman betrothed to a labourer, a carpenter named Joseph. While traveling in unfamiliar places, Mary gave birth to the Christ-child in a stable. Because of the political circumstances this young family fled to Egypt and waited until it was safe, or at least safer, to return home.
Humble was the beginning of the Earthly life of this child.
The incarnation of God was NOT entrusted to the rich – the incarnation was not entrusted to kings and queens, to generals and soldiers, to wealthy merchants and bankers. The incarnation was not entrusted to people who could keep the baby safe, hidden, locked away.
If you remember the segment “Fractured Fairytales” from the “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” – one episode was about a sleeping beauty and when the prince came, he decided not to kiss her and awaken her, but immediately realized that a sleeping beauty could be way more profitable than an awake beauty. So, he built an attraction and charged a fee for people to come and gock at the sleeping beauty. The real joke in the episode is that the prince is a caricature of none other than Walk Disney. That’s why the rich can’t be trusted with the Christ-child.
The rich and powerful would have tried to profit from the incarnation, as they still try and do today. So, they were not trusted with this special task. Jesus was entrusted to Mary and Joseph, who loved him – no doubt, and who launched him – obviously, towards his ministry as savior.
From these humble and challenging beginnings Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry by being baptized. His cousin John was calling people away from the city, away from the temple, away from the corruption of the clergy – to repent and to wait for the one who is to come. Jesus chose to be baptized by John the Baptist, submitting himself to this ritual and to make himself ready for a ministry that lead directly to the pain and suffering he witness in the world.
But first, he would be tempted. After forty days in the wilderness, in a desert, he was tempted with political, religious and corporal power. From a view of all of the nations, from the top of the temple, from a bakery that could feed the whole world – Jesus refused power, fame and fortune that was all too temporary. Truly tempted, Jesus, in all humility, knew that it was only by God’s terms that these things could be achieved and last.
Collecting a raggle-taggle group a people around him – mostly uneducated fishers and widows (with means), Jesus set out to bring a message of compassion, a compassion that could transform people, transform the world. His message of love and forgiveness, of mercy and justice attracted some attention. But not as much as the stories of healing and other miracles. The culmination of his ministry had not yet arrived and so he humbly asked that these things that people had witnessed and experienced be kept quiet, at least for now.
His teaching and healing brought about the ire of several leaders, people who tried to entrap him, to cause him to do or say something that would bring about his imprisonment and maybe even his death. I sometimes wonder if John the Baptist was calling people to be baptized for their sins, or calling people to be baptized for the sins of the temple. There was, after all, a corrupt system of required sacrifices that essentially robed people of their hard-earned cash. It was a system that benefitted the temple, the Roman occupiers and anyone who cooperated with them. It was this corruption that angered Jesus and lead him to overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple. An event that clearly motivates the authorities to deal quick and severely with Jesus, of Nazareth, whose followers are calling him a Messiah, yet another Messiah.
On trumped up charges of blasphemy (crimes against God) and sedition (crimes against the state) Jesus is arrested. His trial is set for early in the morning, before sunrise, so that no one will see, or at least every few people will see this injustice. Then this Jesus will be nothing more than a footnote in history, that is if he’s remembered at all.
He suffers unbelievable humility and pain. The trial was essentially in secret but his execution is public, very public. He is whipped. He is insulted, jeered, and spat upon. He stumbles and falls. His mother watches. His mother watches, painful for both of them. He has nails, large spikes, hammered through his flesh. He feels abandoned, abandoned by God. He’s offered a bit of hyssop, to deaden the pain, he refuses. If there is purpose to this suffering, Jesus wants his suffering to be complete, full and human. Amazingly, he speaks words of forgiveness towards those who do these things.
He could have, I guess, as some people who were watch thought might happen, come down from the cross. But somehow, he knew that this must be the way it is. His suffering and pain is big and has a bigger purpose. Finally, it is finished, and he breathes his last.
This death didn’t have to happen – but it did. We can wallow in the misery that is the Passion of the Lord, or we can accept it humbly as something humans are sadly capable of, to inflict this kind of damage on one another, indeed on so much of God’s creation. We can humbly accept this awful tragedy, now that it has happened, as a means to a greater good, that we can glory in the resurrection and the salvation that is won for us through the cross.
Today, and the events we remember are awful and would be a tragedy if it weren’t for the fact that our salvation is won. Crucifixion never, never has to happen again. What Jesus did, humbly submitting himself to this tragedy, never has to happen again. We can humbly accept this as part of the Good News, as part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but we do not and cannot accept that this is the way things have to be. We can do, as Christ demands of his followers, work for love and forgiveness, mercy and justice – a world that is ruled by compassion. In the long, long shadow of the cross there is hope, a hope that the Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will prevail. AMEN.