In the thirteenth section of his Oration 38, St. Gregory the Theologian makes what might at first seem an outrageous claim: it is more godlike and exalted that God humble Himself by becoming a babe born in a cave than for a God to remain radically different from us.
In order to explain this claim, I am going to mediate for a moment on the concept of leadership. What general is going to be easier to follow into battle? The one who doesn’t eat until all of his men are full, or the one who is never aware of the plight of his men? What boss is easier to work for? The one who knows how to do the lowliest job in the company or the one who simply runs things from the penthouse office?
A leader who not only sympathizes with those who follow, but is willing to suffer with those followers is going to have an easier time asking more of those followers. In turn, those followers are going to be more loyal and ready to follow. Thus, a leader who is willing to be humble and to suffer is not only a better leader, but is a more exulted leader because of the love and loyalty of those who follow.
The fact that the Christ “bears flesh because of my flesh and mingles himself with a rational soul because of my soul” demonstrates how awesome, how great, how godlike God really is. Who else but the Creator of all things, the one who declared His creation to be very good, would do such a magnificent act of love?
I follow Christ, not because I fear for my soul or fear the nothingness that is my rightful inheritance after death or even the fires of hell. I follow Christ because He became a babe, because He so intimately identified with everything that I must suffer through in this life, up to and including death itself. I follow Christ because He did not choose for Himself an easy life or an easy death. Indeed, He chose for Himself one of the most cruel ways to die that humanity has every imaged in its long, dark and evil history.
I follow Christ because He knows what it means to suffer. I follow Christ because He has done it Himself and He did it for me. He knew each and every one of us as He marched to Golgotha. He willing bore the instrument of His own torture and death so that each and every one of us would know that He personally suffered the greatest tragedy in all of history for us. He did it all for me.
How can I not respond? How can I not pick up my own Cross and follow?