“He made himself nothing to be with us.”
Indeed, by entering the Earth in human form, nay, in infant human form, born to the house of a carpenter, Jesus provides a striking example of the order of Christian service — of the truth and the life, yes, but also of the way.
Rather than taking the posture of a king, a scholar, or (as Koons imagines) a gunslinger, yelling good tidings via megaphone (“REPENT!”) or bludgeoning people into repentance via sword, legislation, or academic tome, Jesus began as a baby, entering the darkness of this world and growing up in its midst. As Koons reminds us: “He arrived on the scene with no knowledge, no voice to proclaim anything.”
The truth was of course to be proclaimed more vocally, overtly, and wisely, but in God’s order and purpose, this all began and was weaved together through a series of more subtle proclamations that are also quite powerful. Jesus entered this world in a family. He learned a trade. He grew in wisdom and understanding. Even before his active ministry, he lived and gave and worked humbly and sacrificially alongside others.
As Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef explain in their book, Faithful in All God’s House, God calls each of us to this sort of “apprenticeship Christianity,” wherein our attitudes and actions are actively transformed and guided by the Holy Spirit, by and through which we proclaim the truth and the goodness of God:
Our Lord’s heavenly Father destined him to be raised in a carpenter’s family. So, at least, is the tradition regarding Joseph. Carpentry, like most skills, can be talked about endlessly but is really learned only by doing. Oh yes, the master carpenter tells the apprentice what to do, but the apprentice comes to knowing carpentry only by doing it. That makes all the difference between a sagging door hung by a novice and a neatly fitted one hung by a craftsman. The novice knows about carpentry; the master knows carpentry. This is true about most of living. First the doing, under guidance, and then the understanding. First the way; then the truth.
Remember that our Lord was not predestined by his Father to birth where we might have expected him, say into Herod’s palace or a Scribe’s scholarly abode. He was born, by divine design, into a laboring man’s dwelling. He draws, in all his teaching, on examples taken from every man’s daily life.
It is entirely in keeping with his upbringing by Joseph and Mary, according to God’s predestined intent, that our Lord precedes understanding with doing. He sets the way before the truth. His hermeneutic (that is, his method of interpretation and understanding) is an apprenticeship hermeneutic. And it is every man’s hermeneutic. Open to all who believe. Not reserved for the learned, or the wealthy, or the powerful, or the famous. Quite the opposite, really: “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37). To all who, like Jesus’ own disciples, learned their work by doing it, he quite naturally would say: First the way, then the truth of understanding, and in these the true life—apprenticeship Christianity.
Koons concludes by suggesting that sometimes we can more powerfully proclaim something by “proclaiming nothing,” and that fruitful labor in the fields of the Lord often requires that we pause and simply “listen and learn.” Jesus began his ministry with this sort of humility, and we are called to do likewise.
“We first have to be present,” he explains. “We have to show up. We have to dwell in the darkness and come to know it. Jesus was present in the world, and usually silent, before he was anything else. So this Christmas, remember God’s faithfulness in the hope of the Christ child, but with that, live out the Christ child memory in the world around you: vulnerability, humility, presence.”
From the hustle-and-bustle of the office to the mundane toil of the factory to the diapers we change to the meals we prepare to the simple gatherings of families, communities, and churches all across the world, let us remember that all of this seemingly mundane and “silent” activity does indeed sing God’s praises, proclaiming truth in echoes and whispers for the life of the world.