Extravagant gifts can both humble and embarrass us.
I’ll never forget the Christmas my wife, children and I moved back home after being away for some two and half years. Surrounded by family, friends and strangers alike, I was humbled by the sheer number of gifts we received.
The pile rose higher and higher and still the presents kept coming. I looked at the poor strangers around us and blushed with embarrassment at how much we had been given. It was difficult to accept the overwhelming excess of these gifts given in love.
Jesus washing his disciple’s feet in John 13:1-17 is about the extravangant gift given by God when He became a baby. It’s a powerful symbolic reenactment of the word becoming flesh (John 1:14). Much of the scene echoes Philippians 2:4-8.
In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
When Jesus lays aside his garments and takes a towel in John 13, he shows how he laid aside his divine privilege to take the demeaning role of a slave.
In Peter’s reaction we see the scandalous, sometimes embarrassing reality of what God has done.
In our society it’s difficult to understand the shock and horror Peter experienced as His LORD exposed himself to perform a slave’s task. It might in some sense parallel the shock of watching the Pope take off his clothes in the middle of his Christmas message to give his clothes personally to you.
Imagine your horror as this dignified man takes off his robe unbuttons his shirt and then unzips his pants. Imagine the gasps from the crowd; the red faces the eyes closing and the heads turning away. Imagine the pale skin, aged and overweight body of Benedict standing exposed, offering all his honor and dignity to you.
This in some sense is what God did in Jesus.
We might have been satisfied with something a little less intimate. But the intimacy and concern God affords is so much greater.
God is closer than you think and perhaps at times, according to Peter’s reaction, even more intimate than we might at times be comfortable with.
For the Jews and Greeks God was something up there, something wholly other. He was a transcendent being, that no eye could see and no mind could comprehend. God existed far removed from the day to day routine of everyday life.
The incarnation, the fact that God became man, changes everything. It turns the world upside down. God can no longer be mistaken for an invisible deity far removed from our cares and concerns. He is as Matthew pointed out, “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
In Christmas we remember how God fully and completely offered himself to us, giving the entirety of Himself , His honor and respect in order to meet every last inch of our need.
This gift of intimacy may be difficult to accept. The cynic in us can’t believe it. No God would do that. If I was God I wouldn’t do that. But the surprising thing is that it is exactly because he is God that he has done just that. Notice how John tells us that the cause for Jesus actions was that he knew he came from God and was going back to God (13:3). It is precisely because he is God that He gave himself to us.
In John 13 we find a God that is truly closer than we think. A God that shocks us so throughly in the extravagant gift of Himself that we can only help but blush.
Have you ever received a gift that embarrassed you because it was so great? When have you felt, like Peter, momentarly embarrassed at the intimacy and extravagance of God’s love?