As we enter the last week of Advent, the anticipation of Christmas builds to a crescendo. Jesus is almost here! But how often do we stop and think of the strangeness of the feast of Christ’s Nativity? After all, what we are really celebrating is that the God of the Universe became a tiny baby.
While many things could be said about the mystery of the Incarnation, today let's focus on the profound humility of our God, which is revealed in a powerful way in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth.
Christ Was Born Among the Lowest of the Low
In the ancient world, humility was not seen as a virtue but as weakness, and while the Greco-Roman gods often appeared in human form, no self-respecting god would become fully human. In fact, the early Christians were ridiculed for believing in a God who not only was crucified, but was born to an obscure woman in an obscure town and laid in a feeding trough for animals.
And yet, we continue to worship this God who became a baby. Every year, we celebrate his birth as the beginning of his ultimate self-revelation, and as an invitation to grow in humility. G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic convert and writer, once quipped that instead of singing, “Glory to God in the highest” on Christmas morning, we should sing, “Glory to God in the lowest!”
Let’s look a little closer at St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth for more signs of the humility of the God who created heaven and earth.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (Luke 2:4-5)
It is odd that God chose Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace; after all, Jerusalem was the site of the Temple, the most important place in the world for the Jewish people. Instead, Jesus is born in the little town of Bethlehem, whose only claim to fame is that it is also King David’s hometown. Even so, the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in the even more obscure town of Nazareth gave many people pause when he began his public ministry: would the Messiah come from such humility and obscurity?
Surely not! And yet, that is exactly what God chose to do.
Heavenly Father, teach me to embrace my own littleness this Christmas. Amen.
Christ Was Born in Poverty and Discomfort
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
We know from St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth that Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room in the inn, but we rarely think of exactly what that entailed.
The Mother of God gave birth, not in the comfort of her own home (and certainly not in a sanitized hospital!), but in a smelly barn. The Son of God was laid, not in a cozy crib, but in a feeding trough for animals. Because Mary and Joseph were poor (and perhaps caught by surprise when Mary went into labor), they didn’t have soft baby clothes or blankets to wrap Jesus in. “Swaddling clothes” were akin to burlap cloths: itchy and rough. The God of the Universe enters into the human condition in all of its poverty, discomfort, and messiness.
Blessed Mother, pray for me that I might see your son in those I encounter who are poor and “messy” in the eyes of the world, especially those in my own community who I may be tempted to ignore this Christmas. Amen.
Christ Sees Dignity in All People
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)
If you have a Nativity scene in your home, it most likely features a shepherd or two adoring the Christ-child. But have you ever wondered why the angels appeared to shepherds to announce the good news that Jesus had been born? Once again, God makes an odd choice: shepherds were the lowest of the low in ancient Jewish society. They spent most of their time with their sheep, to the point of sleeping in the fields with their flocks to protect them--not exactly a profession that lends itself to association with the rich and powerful!
That the angels appear to them, and not to the Pharisees or Sadducees, is yet another sign of God’s humility: he became man for all people, but especially the lowly and forgotten.
Lord Jesus, teach me to see the world as you see it: to recognize the dignity in each person, regardless of profession, status, race, or any other worldly measure. Amen.
This Christmas, Let Us Love Him in Humility
In closing, let us consider the sign the angels told the shepherds to look for when seeking the Christ-child: "you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12).
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote that, “God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love... God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human.”
As strange as it may seem, we believe in a God who became a baby, so that we might not be afraid of him in his glory, but love him in his lowliness. This is the good news of Christmas.
“Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.” --Benedict XVI