"So, I am like Jesus?" Jesse, our 10-year-old son, was seeking to understand our recent recounting of the events leading up to his birth.
Eleven years ago, during Advent, we received a notice of eviction from our first South African home even as we learned that we were pregnant with our fourth child. Like Mary, we needed the angel's "Do not be afraid" to calm our fears (Luke 1:30).
God's provision came in a variety of ways. Despite a shortage of housing in our city, our Pentecostal church—small in number and strong in faith—quickly found us a home on the same property where a member's daughter lived with her husband. A kindly landlord accommodated us through our remaining years in South Africa. Our co-tenants and neighbors became supportive friends. Jesse, a mission colleague from another denomination, accompanied us through the move and used his bakkie (pickup truck) to efficiently transport our belongings. During our annual Advent family worship, a biblical storytelling observance known as "the Jesse Tree" (see Isaiah 11:1), we remembered our spiritual ancestors. These were "strangers and foreigners on the earth," "living in tents" as they sought the city "whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:8-16). Nine months later, in our new house, Jesse Immanuel was born to us, the sign that "God is with us" (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:28).
Jesse's question opened a new interpretation of our story. I had never noticed the link from our seeking new shelter in the early stages of pregnancy to Jesus' earthly parents finding "no place in the inn" prior to his birth (Luke 2:7). The two stories need not be identical to see that a profound identification was taking shape. Jesse was beginning to place his story within Jesus' story.
The Christmas story comes down to this—God identifies with us so that we may identify with God.