Leaving Riches Behind: A Meditation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

A beloved story in history is the account of the rich person who who givesIMG_4075-878x600 up his wealth and adopts a life of poverty. This is the story of Francis, whose father was the richest man in the Italian city of Assisi, yet who renounced his wealth and embraced a life of absolute poverty. Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince born into wealth and privilege, renounced luxury to become the ascetic known as the Buddha. Agnes Bojaxhiu, born into the family of an Albanian politician, renounced a life a privilege and embraced ministry to the poorest of the poor becoming known as Mother Teressa of Calcutta. In American history, one of the things that endeared George Washington to his troops was the fact that he was considered the richest man in America, yet he endured the hardships of military campaigns for years as he led the armies of the Revolution.

The Apostle Paul does not tell the story of the life of Jesus like the Gospel authors, but he has snatches of Christmas in his writings if we know where to look. One of these is in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Christ, the pre-existing Word of God, left his place in the courts of heaven to become the Babe of Bethlehem, the son of a teenage girl and a hard-working man. He did not grow up in the midst of wealth or privilege. Just becoming human for Jesus was the ultimate rich to poor story in ways we cannot even understand.

The Englishman, Frank Houghton, left the secure life of a priest in the Church of England to join Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission in 1920. His career in China was parallel to the rise of the communist party, an organization that viciously persecuted Christians and especially missionaries. Houghton toured China in 1934 despite great personal risk. British missionaries had been imprisoned, tortured, even beheaded by the communists. Houghton visited remote missionary outposts and witnessed the suffering of these men and women of God first hand.

During the year, Frank Houghton wrote the words to one of my favorite Christmas hymns:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

For me, Houghton captures an essence of Christmas in these words. How rich was Christ? Paul doesn’t tell in 2 Corinthians. Houghton simply says it was “beyond all splendour.” The wealth of Christ was not in silver or gold, not in real estate or the stock market, not in lucrative patents or celebrity endorsement power. Like Paul and Frank Houghton, I cannot begin to describe or even imagine the riches Christ left behind when he became human. But I am eternally grateful that he was willing to forsake these things.

Houghton’s third stanza says this:

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what Thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship Thee.

Let this be your prayer as we approach Christmas this week. Pray with the courageous missionary, Frank Houghton, “Lord Jesus, make me what you would have me to be, for I worship you, my Savior and King.”

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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