Admittedly, the Old Testament, particularly Leviticus, is not your typical go-to Scripture for a Christmas Day reflection. But we believe that, embedded in this passage, the message of God’s gift of love is evident in the rules He gave to the Israelites.
In Leviticus 25 we read God’s instructions to His people on how to manage the land by giving it a rest every seven years. The Israelites were also instructed to allow the original landowners—who were forced to sell for reasons of poverty—the opportunity to repurchase their land and home. Then, every fifty years, the Year of Jubilee ensured that people had the prospect of becoming self-sufficient again on their own land. The overriding message is this: do not take advantage of each other (vv. 14, 17, 36, 43)—and especially not when a community member is experiencing poverty. In other words, always treat everyone with love and respect.
Why did the Israelites need to receive these instructions? We think it must have been obvious that the people weren’t naturally taking care of each other and of the world God had created for them. God is teaching the Israelites that everything they thought they owned was, in fact, owned by God (v. 23). He gifted what they “owned” to His people to use in a loving and stewardly manner, but they needed help doing that.
God makes it clear that His entire creation—the poor, the alien, the slaves, the shepherds, and the land—are worthy of His love, and therefore worthy of receiving justice. By instituting the Year of Jubilee, He was ensuring that the Old Testament Israelites would never permanently lose their land and their home. God knew that for all people to have dignity and hope for their future, they needed a place within a community; they needed a home.
The reality, however, was quite different. There is no evidence that the Israelite nation ever implemented this standard of the Year of Jubilee. And anyone who has seriously tried to follow all the other laws in the Old Testament has found that task next to impossible. It turns out that these standards are too much for humans to carry out, and God must have known this.
So, what could God do? Instead of more rules, more laws, God gave Jesus. Someone who was born into poverty, homelessness, and insecurity. Someone who depended on others for his basic needs. Someone who healed the sick and truly saw the lonely. Someone who honoured women and those on the margins in that day. Someone who challenged the wealthy and the status quo.
Luke recounts an incident about Jesus in his gospel, early in his ministry. In Luke 4:16-21 Jesus describes himself as the one dedicated to giving good news to those in poverty, in prison, living with a disability or otherwise oppressed. It’s a message that infuriates those who thought they themselves were the special ones, as if God’s love could be earned. Jesus’ message was that everyone was worthy, with not one person above reproach.
Whether today is quiet or busy, our prayer for you is that you’ll be able to take a few moments to consider just how wide, how long, how high, and how deep (Ephesians 3:18) God’s love is for all of us in Jesus.