The humility of God in the Incarnation
Perhaps the humility of God in the incarnation is one of the most considered aspects of Advent and Christmas. How could One surrounded by perfection and beauty descend to the lowest place and be born in a filthy animal feeding trough? How could one so highly exalted stoop so low to be the Servant of all?
To rightly understand His humility in becoming a human, we must be informed biblically on where He dwelt and how He was worshipped before He took on flesh. Only with this backdrop are we rightly prepared to experience the potency of His emotions and desires that flooded His heart and caused Him to constrain Himself to the poverty of a human frame forever.
Before creation, the Son was dwelling together with the Father, daily His delight (Proverbs 8:30). He was perpetually adored by all the host of Heaven from the moment of their creation, never ceasing to be recognized for who He was and never ceasing to receive worship. He was the preeminent One, beautiful beyond comparison, so excellent in all His ways. He was one with Yahweh, the LORD. There was no one like Him in all of creation.
In the Incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth from His throne at the height of the heavens, and chose to be born through a young frightened maiden in an obscure town in Israel. Of course the act of the eternal Son of God being born demonstrates spectacular humility. The apostle Paul says that He “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). That Jesus would actually choose to be born instead of simply appearing on the scene in glory is astounding, and speaks of His burning heart of love for fallen humanity. Later on in His life, Jesus spoke of His humility in emptying Himself of reputation and giving everything for love:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field…Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:44-46 NKJV)
Though His humility can be considered in every moment of His life, few things exemplify the humility of Jesus in the Incarnation more than the circumstances surrounding His birth. We know the story well (and perhaps too well that the weight of what happened does not bear down upon us as it should). Mary and Joseph had not yet been married, but were betrothed to each other. Mary went to visit her older relative Elizabeth who was miraculously with child in her old age. After returning to Nazareth months later, she was showing signs of her pregnancy. Can you imagine what Joseph must have been feeling when she saw Mary’s belly? Soon, the news would fill the entire town – Mary had returned and was pregnant. Who was the father of Mary’s child? Was she unfaithful to Joseph during her stay outside of Nazareth? The rumors about her would most certainly be the talk of the town.
Jewish law typically required one to divorce an unfaithful wife, and that any woman found in indecency could be given a certificate of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1). The penalty was worse for a betrothed virgin – if she was found unfaithful, she would be stoned by the men of her city (Deuteronomy 20:20-21). Joseph had considered the implications of “going public” and not accepting the child in Mary’s womb as his own, but because he was “righteous” (Matthew 1:19) he decided to “put her away quietly”.
The scriptures are silent on the social context in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, but we can only imagine what it must have been like for the young betrothed couple, bearing the stigma from their friends and loved. Undoubtedly Mary’s reputation in Nazareth was tarnished as she lived under reproach and carried the Creator and Ruler of all in her young womb. It wasn’t until six months later that the couple departed for Bethlehem and Mary delivered her firstborn Son in the abode of sheep, horses, donkeys, and goats. By man’s standards, her first pregnancy was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. Remembering that angel told her she was “highly favored”, what must Mary have been thinking? Through the birth of Jesus, it’s clear that our modern Christian definition of “favor” and “blessing” is completely different from the Lord’s.
The circumstances leading up to our Lord’s birth are scandalous, and the trials did not stop after He was born. Herod had been informed of the sign of a King born in Bethlehem. Fearing political conquest by another King, Herod put to death all of the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. Not only did Jesus escape death by the power-hungry sword of Herod and have men seeking after His life from a young age, but He grew up bearing the stigma of a child conceived out of wedlock.
The remarkable aspect of His humility is revealed through these early moments of His life when we realize that Jesus, the Holy One, actually chose these circumstances to be born and raised in. It was not fate, mere chance, or bad luck that hindered the Creator of all from a more “normal” birth. Jesus could have come into the world in a king’s palace under perfect conditions, and He still would have been unspeakably humble to do so when considering who He was and where He came from. But He went lower still.
If every moment of the life of Jesus is revelatory concerning the heart of God, what does this say to us about His humility?
Pondering the life of Jesus as a minutes-old baby to a two-year old toddler has got to be one of the most enthralling things for one to do! Not only does it thrill our hearts with God’s personality, but it beckons us into His likeness. May the Lord grant you grace to behold Him in His humility today and the rest of this Advent and Christmas season.
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