When God Became a Bum – A Christmas Post

Think about the last time that you walked past a bum, sprawled out across the sidewalk. What was your gut response: Pity? Contempt? A mixture of the two? In any case, I’m pretty sure you didn’t steal his backpack. Their life is hard enough without losing what little they have. Yet they are frequently victims of such crimes.

_60781461_homeless_gettyThere was one police department that did something to protect them. They had an officer go undercover as an unconscious bum while his partners arrested anyone who stole his stuff. Score one for the good guys!

In an interview, the undercover cop described the “bum-ification” process of looking and smelling the part. He didn’t shave or shower for a couple of days. Then he took on a bum’s garb – multiple layers of torn and unwashed clothes, doused in cheap beer. Next, he went to the local car wash, rubbed his hands in the car grime, and smeared it all over his neck and face. In order to save the bums, he became a bum.

At church yesterday, I was trying to think of a way to describe the miracle of Christmas. This image of an officer-turned-bum is what came to mind. In the words of Philippians:

[Jesus], being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself and became obedient to death –

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.[1]

Our God sank down to the depths of humanity, putting on himself all of our filth and stench in order to save us.

But don’t forget that the officer-turned-bum never ceased to be an officer. It was because of his authority that he had the power to save. Jesus made himself nothing yet never ceased to be, in very nature, God. He retained his divine character – a God of love, grace, righteousness, and compassion – able to save us.

Here’s what blows my mind: Though our Savior shed his radiance and took on our humanity, he didn’t lose any of his glory. Rather than sinking to our level, he showed us what God is like – the Greatest who willing pours himself out for the least. In the rare moments when I really grasp this wonder, I am left speechless and can only whisper in awe with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!”

So this Christmas, we celebrate the God who became a bum for bums like us.

Merry Christmas!

Josh Kelley



[1] Philippians 2:6-11. In the original Greek, this passage was a poem or song, and this format attempts to preserve that poetic structure.

The “Other Testament”

Tomorrow my church will hold its annual camping trip. It’s a great time of living out community while smelling perpetually of campfire smoke.

On Sunday, we will hold our worship service (nothing reminds you that the church is us, not a building, like closing down the building for a Sunday).

Not only that, there is something sublime about worshiping God out in nature, his “cathedral.” Accordingly, I will talk briefly about God’s self-revelation in nature.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6 (NIV)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Romans 1:20-23 (NIV)

Here is an interesting thought:

Creation itself is a testament to God. Almost in the same way that we have the Old Testament and the New Testament, we have God’s general revelation both in the universe around us and his specific revelation through the Bible. Both are vital.

I know that, for myself, it his revelation in nature that is the starting point of my faith – I cannot make myself believe that all of this just happened. While we may debate the methods by which God created the universe, it is evident that he created it.

However, (an important “however”) in the same way need New Testament in order to fully understand the Old, we need the Bible to understand the God of creation. Creation shows us “his eternal power and divine nature,” but not his character.

So while I believe God exists because of creation, I have fallen in love with him because of his revelation, both in the Word and (infinitely more) the Incarnation – God becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

But even still, God’s specific revelation should complement his general revelation, not replace it. Caught up as we are in the hustle and bustle of urban life, it becomes harder to stop and experience God, as revealed in creation and the Word.

I will close with one of my favorite poems, “The Grandeur of God.”

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

G.M. Hopkins