Recently I received a letter from a child I sponsor who lives in a small village half a world away. He told me his family are goat herders and his favorite food is maize. He asked me what I like to eat and what kinds of animals I raise.
I stared at the tiny column allotted for a translated reply and wondered what to say.
How could I explain my life as an American urban-ite whose staple dishes are curry and poké and whose only regular animal interactions are with the spiders I fling off my third-floor balcony?
In some small way, this resembles the dilemma faced by the New Testament writers. They must speak of a baby born looking exactly like all of the rest in the nursery and yet who held the fate of the world in his tiny hands.
How does one speak of something unprecedented in human experience? How does one describe a man with eternity in his eyes and divinity on this breath?
Attempting to do so, the early Christian disciples draw on the best resource they possess — analogies drawn from their shared ancient, sacred stories.
The last Adam
For Paul, Jesus is the last Adam. The first Adam was the progenitor of the human race. His line was overtaken by a ghastly mutation called Sin. Adam’s children are now doomed to die and enslaved by death’s inevitability. But Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity, the top of a new family tree. He is the firstborn of a new race of resurrection people, fearless and free.
The greater Moses
For Matthew, Jesus is the greater Moses. Moses was Israel’s law-giver and its greatest prophet. He went up on a mountain and delivered commandments from God on tablets of stone. The trouble was, knowing the right didn’t make us inclined to do it. The law couldn’t make someone righteous, only more culpable.
But then Jesus went up on a mountain and offered a new roadmap to life. This new “law” is different from the first, not just in quality but in kind. Spirit calls to spirit, weaving will and action into one with God’s desires. This new law, the law of love, is carved into the tablet of the heart.
The new high priest
For the author of Hebrews, Jesus is a new high priest in the order of Melchizedek — the mysterious figure who inspired many legends. Melchizedek was called “a priest of the Most High God” and honored as such by Abraham despite being wholly unrelated to Israel’s priestly line.
Jesus comes from outside the Levitical succession yet functions in a higher priestly role. Sharing our skin, he knows our weakness without catching our disease. He lives forever in God’s presence and appeals on our behalf. And his appeal is uniquely effective because the offering he makes in our name is no less than his very self.
The Son of David
For Luke, Jesus is the Son of David, the long-awaited heir to the kingly line. The first David reigned over Israel’s glory days of strength and wealth and unity. But David’s kingdom also bore the scars of his very human weakness: inequity built into his palace, faithlessness marshalled in his armies, division sown into the depths of his own family. Jesus came as royalty but declined the throne or palace, living instead alongside the lowest and least. He inaugurated a new kingdom in all lands and without borders, an alliance of the willing who offer him allegiance and commit to live together in peace.
A different Joshua
At his birth he is given the name Yeshua, Joshua. The first Joshua was a warrior who conquered the promised land and saved his people from their enemies through the power of the sword. The promised land that Jesus comes to claim is the Earth itself. The enemies arrayed against him are Sin and Death and Satan.
In Revelation, John sees him ride to war on a horse, his only weapon the truth in his mouth, the only shed blood required for victory his freely given own.
He is Adam. He is Moses. He is Joshua. He is David’s heir. He is the high priest, and he is the temple, and he is the effective sacrifice.
He is not just history’s turning point. He is its beginning, its middle, its end. Every story was written through him, points to him and finds its meaning in him.
Behold, the Word of God in all its pages, lying in a manger.
Come, let us adore him.
Meghan Larissa Good is teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., and author of The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today (Herald Press, 2018).