Entering into the second week of Advent, we focus on the theme of Humility.
These are the words from Luke 2.1-7
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Three years ago this past July 22, on a gold easel was placed for display outside of Buckingham Palace, this announcement was displayed to a watching world: “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4:24pm today. Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well.” This official announcement of the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis Windsor was not exactly breaking news. The press had been camped around St. Mary’s hospital, waiting. Satellite trucks were ready to go live all around the world.
At his birth young Prince George, third in line to the British throne, was already worth, according to Forbes, anywhere from 500 million to a billion dollars. It’s safe to say young Prince George did not spend his first night on this earth sleeping in a feed trough.
I hope Prince George will live a blessed and useful life to the glory of God. I only recount the announcement of his birth to offer a contrast. What is it? The contrast between anticipated glory and actual humility.
Prince George’s birth is a modern example of worldly royalty. Had he been born in an earlier less democratic era (or culture) Prince George’s birth announcement might have mobilized armies, provoked sacrifice, realigned the fate of nations. As it was, a gold easel announcement for display as a press release is a considerable come down. But, after all, we are living in fabled modernity.
Jesus – God the Son – entered the world in extremely humble circumstances. His earthly parents were not even middle class. Today we would consider them among the working poor. They were not lettered. The family they formed would be looked down upon, even among their own social peers. If you are so poor even the poor think less of you then you are poor and powerless indeed. This was the family Jesus – God the Son – entered by choice. These were his people.
But there was a birth announcement.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
This announcement lit the night sky, temporarily drawing back eternity’s curtain and revealing the normally unseen glory of heaven. This was an announcement of world-changing significance. But to whom was this announcement made? To Larry the shepherd. And his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.
The Nativity was an event of humility. What Jesus did in eternity when He “considered equality with God not a thing to be grasped” became earthly and temporal when he “was born in the likeness of men.” But it is important to remember Jesus was not born in the likeness of powerful or influential men. Jesus was born low. He had no form or majesty to attract others to him.
If you want to spend (waste) your time trying to imagine what Jesus might have looked like then do the following. Go to an inner city “mission” or “health clinic. Look there for some young mother with a greasy, weathered face holding a runny-nosed infant while she waits for free public health care. That “not-the-years-but-the-miles” glaze on the mother’s face – that’s Mary. That baby with the crusted nose - that's Jesus.
God chooses to dwell with the lowly.
He chooses what is weak in the world; He chooses what is low and despised in the world. He chooses to bless the one who stands in the shadows of the temple and beats his breast, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” He chooses to touch the outcast leper. He chooses to defend the woman caught in adultery and dragged through the streets. He chooses to see and to praise the poor widow who gives her all, and out of her own poverty. He chooses the laborer with callouses on his hands.
God chooses to dwell with the lowly.
And he didn’t start choosing to dwell with the lowly when he got out of graduate school and thought it might be a good idea, now, to become incarnational. He came into the world dwelling with the lowly. From the very beginning and all through his life, Jesus intentionally avoided choosing the powerful, the movers and shakers, the influencers; those people he might could leverage, at some later date, to his advantage.
He chose to dwell with the lowly, all the way to the cross. At his crucifixion he had one piece of clothing and that was taken away from him. Talk about humiliation! The standard Roman crucifixion practice was to crucify the person utterly naked. The Jews of Jesus’ day allowed for a loin cloth, not out of deference to the person being crucified, or stoned, but out of modesty for anyone looking. Either way, naked or with the concession of a loin cloth, Jesus was crucified utterly humiliated, exposed, brought low, even to the death, even to the grave.
God chose to dwell with the lowly. This means you and this means me. In all of our angst and our insecurities and our feelings of inadequacy and our fears of being found out we need remember the humility of his birth and of his death.
He chose humility because, dear one, He chose you.