I love the Lord of the Rings story, especially the struggle of Frodo against the Ring of Power. Frodo chooses to take the Ring to the place where it can be destroyed. But as soon as he does, the Ring starts fighting him. It tries to take him over. It desires to put him into harm’s way. Frodo wrestles against the Ring all the way to the volcanic fires of Mount Doom where it could be unmade. But when he gets there, he gives in to the temptation to wield the power of the Ring. Like others before him, he fails to destroy the evil.
That is an incomplete analogy of Jesus’ own experience. Starting from his birth on that first Christmas, Jesus took on the same selfish, corrupted, and damaged human nature that each of us has. John said, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). John could have said that the Word became soma (a body) or anthropos (a man); but he used the word sarx (flesh) to denote corrupted human nature – as Paul said, “Nothing good dwells in my flesh” (Romans 7:18). From his birth, Jesus wrestled against his own human nature. It tried to make him take the easy road, or embrace the selfish cravings, but Jesus refused; instead, Jesus struggled victoriously against his human nature. He never sinned; instead, he forced his flesh to comply with the love of the Father at every moment. Unlike Frodo and the Ring, Jesus couldn’t take it off his humanity; it was himself! And unlike Frodo, Jesus had to die himself in order to finally vanquish the sinful human nature he had taken on. Jesus succeeded where none of us could possibly go. He defeated the sinful nature. But he rose new in his resurrection, as a God-soaked, God-drenched human being – a new human being. And Jesus is able to share the Spirit of his new humanity with us, to make us into the truly human people God has always wanted us to be.
That is the central truth about Jesus’ grace towards us. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul gives his ultimate rationale for Christians to give their money generously to the poor:
9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
The entire arc of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are his “grace” – χαρις, strength. Jesus “for your sake…became poor.” That is, he became human. But “through his poverty” he offers us what God values most: the new and transformed human nature of Jesus, which is soaked through with God’s love. In fact, sharing in Jesus’ new, God-soaked humanity by his Spirit makes us “rich.” What does that make us? The people God has always wanted us to become – the generous, sacrificial, loving, and strong people who bear His image into the world.
By the same grace of our Lord Jesus, we are called to struggle against our own selfishness and greed. By his strength, we fight our own weakness. By his victory, we fight our temptation. By his grace, we resist our own ungraciousness. By our giving by his Spirit, we show forth Jesus’ own self-giving. We reveal the very Jesus who was rich and became poor…so that the poor might become rich indeed. To whom will you let Jesus give through you this Christmas?