The Humility of Christmas
By Jerry Newcombe
Winston Churchill was a man of great wit. Much of that wit came in the form of insulting barbs. It was once reported, “When Winston Churchill was told that Clement Attlee [former British prime minister] is a modest man, he said: ‘No doubt he is. And Mr. Attlee has plenty to be modest about.’”
But all joking aside, genuine humility is a beautiful and God-like trait. The first Christmas was really quite humble.
Perhaps that is why Christmas resonates in the hearts of many, even many non-religious people…because of its utter humility.
Of course, we Christians believe God became a man in Jesus Christ. But when He came, He didn’t come in pomp and circumstance, living in an ivory palace. He came in a humble and lowly way.
He didn’t even sleep in a bed that first Christmas. He was laid in a manger—a feeding trough for animals—in a smelly stable. Hay served as the baby’s mattress.
He did it voluntarily, as the Apostle Paul notes: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
One of the verses of the classic 19th century Christmas carol “What Child Is This?” asks, “Why lies He in such mean estate, / Where ox and ass are feeding?” At that time, “mean” meant, “Of little value; low in worth or estimation.”
Here is a lesson to us all. No one in this world, no matter how lowly, no matter what side of the tracks they come from, would find Jesus unrelatable. He is accessible to all.
Mary was a Jewish teenage girl, maybe 13 or 14. She was betrothed to be married to Joseph, which entailed more of a legal commitment to marriage than our modern day engagement.
They lived in Nazareth of Galilee in Israel, which was under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Later on, when one of the 12 apostles, Nathanael, first learned that Jesus was from Nazareth, he exclaimed, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It was viewed as backwoods.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to let her know she was chosen to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy from seven centuries before: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.”
In her “Magnificat,” her song of praise to God, humble Mary is grateful to the Lord, “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
She has indeed been called blessed. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was the greatest woman ever born. Even National Geographic had a cover story on her in 2015, calling her “the world’s most powerful woman.”
But through it all, Mary remained humble. Death entered our world through pride. Life came through Christ. Humble Mary played a key role in Christ’s coming. When she received the startling news that the Holy Spirit would come upon her so that she would give birth to the Son of God, she replied in humble obedience, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Why that first Christmas? About 30 years later, Jesus Himself explained the whole reason He came: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And He came in humility.
Humility doesn’t always come easy to most of us. My long-time pastor, Dr. D. James Kennedy, once quipped: “I hope you all heard my last sermon on humility. It was a masterpiece.”
True humility is beautiful, and it is extolled in the Bible repeatedly as a virtue pleasing to God. For example, James says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
When George Washington was a young man, he wrote out in his own handwriting a Christmas poem he saw in an English magazine that highlights the humility of Christmas. Some of the words include: “Assist me Muse divine to sing the morn, / On which the Savior of mankind was born; / …. Resign a while his glorious throne above. / Beneath our form every woe sustain….That Deity should stoop to our disguise! / That man recovered should regain the skies!”
This Christmas season, with all of its hustles and bustles and overstimulation and stress, I think it’s good to stop and reflect on the humbleness of that first Christmas. As the 1858 Christmas Carol, “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” exhorts us: “Teach, O teach us, Holy Child, / By Thy face so meek and mild, / Teach us to resemble Thee, / In Thy sweet humility.”
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min.
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