It has become customary for followers of Christ to encounter, in the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, the option to live simply.
This option suggests itself to those who realize Mary gave birth to her first child, God’s Son, not in a place of ostentation and opulence but, because space was not available at the lodgings, in a manger, a stable, a cave—according to the traditions that we have. Yet there, in this lowly place, the Christ child was welcomed and cared for. Mary wrapped him in “swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:7).
To illustrate the lowliness of Jesus’ birth, the songwriter William Dix summoned his creative imagination to compose the popular carol “What Child is This?” in which he placed “ox and ass” at the scene of Christ’s birth. It was the prophet Isaiah who said: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know; my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3).
Even today, many do not recognize the God who made an appearance in flesh in Bethlehem at Christmas. However, the shepherds who appeared at the place of Jesus’ humble birth may be understood as reflecting the reversal of Isaiah’s dictum: They rejoiced to meet the one they recognized as their Savior! The child who was born in a lowly place did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6). He came into the world at a crossroads littered with life’s challenges and its opportunities.
The desirability of a simple lifestyle
From the simplicity of the place of Jesus’ entry into the world and from the way of life Jesus chose for himself, we may learn the desirability of a simple lifestyle. This lifestyle is advanced as a pattern for us by the authors of Advices and Queries—the guide prepared in Britain for the yearly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers): “Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford.”
In our materialistic world where people’s pattern of consumption often is regarded as an index of their “success,” the challenge to live simply may go unheeded. Yet commitment to the simple lifestyle is consistent with the example of our Lord Jesus, whose entry into the world was without the creature comforts some regard as basic necessities and whose way of life showed no sign of materialistic obsession.
Voluntary simplicity would help limit the widening gulf that marks the troubling economic and social inequality in our globalized world. It also would reduce the negative impact of human activity on the natural environment.
This year, as we celebrate the coming of Jesus—the miracle of God appearing in the form of a human being—contemplation of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth could bolster the resolve to opt for the simple lifestyle. If this happens during this season, when promoters of a growing consumer culture seek to maximize their gains, we could relieve ourselves of the anxiety associated with over-spending.
When consistently we choose to live simply, we open up for ourselves the door to peaceful pathways hitherto unexplored and abundant joy never before experienced.
If God makes an appearance in simple places, choose to live simply and have a blessed Christmas!
Neville Callam is general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, based in Falls Church, Va.