Christmas, a time for humility

17 12 2008

I have just had an off-the-cuff conversation with someone that got on to the subject of ‘humility’. It’s a good time of the year to ponder humility in the light of the coming of the Lord and Saviour of the world in such humble circumstances that we remember at Christmas.

I did a quick Google search and found the following refrains from carols or poems:

“It was a humble birth, But a King was born that day.”

and

“Listen! From a humble manger, Comes the call”

and

“Go, shepherds, where the Infant lies, And see his humble throne;”

My dictionary defines ‘humble’ as:

“having, showing, low estimate of one’s own importance; of lowly condition, of modest pretensions.”

Strangely the Bible stories of Jesus coming as a baby don’t use the word humble. Mary singing prophecy declared of God, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” i.e. herself (Lk 1:48). Jesus was later to teach, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29) and of course the New Testament speaks a number of times about the need to be humble (Eph 4:2, Jas 4:6,10, 1 Pet 3:8, 5;5,6)

So what does it mean to be humble? What is humility?

Well clearly in the three quotes from carols or hymns above, ‘humble’ is equated with ‘lowly’ (‘basic, modest, unpretending’ my dictionary says!)

The carols are right.

Yes, Jesus birth was a pretty lowly thing, being born in a stable (we assume this from the ‘manger’ reference though there is NO reference to a stable!) or maybe in the open air, presumably with no midwife in attendance. Not what most modern mothers-to-be would desire!

References to the manger as a ‘humble throne’? Well the point is well made that this baby is in fact a king above all kings but he appears in a way and a form as lowly as it is possible to be.

Perhaps this is one of the most staggering things about the Christmas story, the lowliness of his arrival. If it was today we might be referring to a single mother having her child in the back of an abandoned car on some waste ground. That’s about the level of it.

The apostle Paul took all this on board when he taught, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8) It is the sense of humility that is conveyed there, although the word is not used until it comes to his submitting himself to his Father’s will to go to the Cross. Obedience is always an act of humility, because it is lowering ourselves in submission to God.

But I’d like to add a different definition: “Humility is having a right assessment of yourself.”

A humble person knows who they are.

A humble person knows that any good they have comes as a gift from God.

A humble person knows that left to themselves they are self-centred and not nice!

A humble person realises that they have no grounds to look down on others.

A humble person looks out for others, realising we are all the same.

A humble person relies on God.

Again the apostle Paul taught, Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3)

‘Sober judgement’ sounds a bit heavy but it just means, make a cool, calm, wise and honest assessment of yourself, what you are really like – both good points as well as bad.

When we approach life like this we’ll be walking in Jesus’ footsteps – in honesty. When we are honest we realise that left to our own we are not nice, but with God’s transforming power we can become His blessing to this world.

That’s the eventual outworking of the Christmas story, that this tiny baby grew up and without fanfare or trumpets brought the love of God wonderfully to Israel for three years. Then he was crucified for being good, but God raised him from the dead and he subsequently returned to heaven from where he came originally. This became the door to God for all who realised what they were like, a door of belief that opened the way for Him to come and transform their lives to bring goodness to His world.

There’s never been anything like it in all history. It’s what marks Christianity out from all other world religions or philosophies and it’s this which brings such hostility, for light shows up darkness and darkness doesn’t like it. Yet, those of us who are Christians have no grounds to boast; humility is the name of the game all the way to heaven.

Again the apostle Paul emphasised the truth – it’s all of God! God…made us alive … God raised us up …it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:4-8) This is true humility, the recognition that we are, as Christians, works of God. All we were able to do was surrender and He did the rest.

So, as you approach this Christmas, imagine the manger with that little baby, and imagine yourself kneeing in submission beside it. This is humility.

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