With Thanksgiving here and the season of Advent approaching to bring 2020 to a close, I am reminded more than ever why the season is so significant. In it we remember the Advent, the coming of God himself incarnate into our broken world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 or so years ago. We also look forward to the second Advent when Christ will come again. Advent reminds us that in his grace toward humanity and creation, God came to take on human flesh to redeem us and one day restore our world. It will take some creativity to celebrate the season this year, but I am aching for it – to remember, celebrate and take in that good news.
As I was reading from a passage in 2 Corinthians the other day, however, I learned that there is a way not only to take in this news and receive it, but to display it visibly in our own lives through our actions.
The miracle of Christ’s incarnation is described throughout Scripture in various ways – for example, in Paul’s famous Christ hymn of Philippians 2 as an act of self-emptying and taking on the form of a slave or servant. In 2 Corinthians 8, however, the Apostle describes the incarnation in terms more economic or financial.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
Paul describes Christ’s taking on human flesh as an act of becoming poor. In comparison to the infinite worth and glory of the Creator’s divine nature, human nature as created and even more as fallen is a deficit, a debt. For God the Son to take on our human nature meant depreciation, impoverishment and bankruptcy. For God to become one of us, to be with us, meant becoming a beggar. And in this act of becoming poor by becoming man, Christ revealed two realities about himself: it revealed his grace – his generosity toward undeserving sinners. It also revealed his love; it served as proof of his love for humanity (v. 8). For he became poor for our sakes so that we might become rich.
What is surprising about the miracle of Christ’s gracious incarnation, however, is that it can be imitated—displayed in our own actions. In fact, it’s meant to be. This one verse about Christ’s incarnation occurs in a chapter where Paul calls the Corinthian believers to give freely, generously, joyfully and even sacrificially to the work of the kingdom and to the needs of the poor and the saints in Jerusalem. The language he uses to describe such giving connects to Christ’s own self-giving:
Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (2 Cor. 2:6-7; see also 1-2, 19.)
Paul calls instances of Christian giving “acts of grace”—the same word he uses to describe what was revealed in Christ’s act of becoming poor in the incarnation—his “grace.”
Our generous giving to God’s kingdom work, to his people and to the needy, then, are acts of grace that manifest, disclose and playact to the world the drama of the gracious incarnation of the Son of God. Our giving to others is acts of grace that serve as living witnesses to the gospel of grace.
What acts of grace might the Lord be calling you to this season? There are many opportunities and needs around us, but I offer three for your consideration.
First, giving to the work of the kingdom through the church. In this season of renewing our pledges to the work of the church, I’ll share my perspective as local outreach coordinator. Thanks to your past giving, Holy Trinity has continued to fulfill our commitment to give a tithe of its collections to kingdom work being done in our area, across the country and around the world. These tithes have driven an economy of good works throughout our city and in places around the world, including Burundi, the poorest country in the world. Many of our partner ministries have been hard hit by the pandemic and economic downturn, but your past giving has sustained them and their ministries in this season. From the perspective of outreach, I encourage you to consider renewing your pledge and sustaining the work of the kingdom.
Second, get involved with our Christmas Giving Drive to run a Christmas Store with toys for children and provide basic supplies to those who have experienced homelessness. This is a simple, fun, family-friendly way to get involved and step up to serve creatively with two of our partners, The Encouraging Place and Raleigh Rescue Mission. Read more and get involved.
Third, what needs are there around you, perhaps in your family or among your friends and neighbors? As you continue to meet those needs, I encourage you to think about your care not as a duty, but as a delight, as acts of grace through which you might remember and display the grace of our Savior.