For most people, even non-Christians, Christmas is a time of fond memories, the observance of family traditions, parties, favorite foods and decorations, and all the other trappings that have come to be associated with the holiday. For some it will include extra church activities, dramas, children’s programs, and musical performances. Some will make their yearly nostalgic pilgrimage to a church service, just for old times’ sake.
For many, however, there will be tears of sadness. Parents will be mourning the child lost to illness, accident, or senseless violence. A husband will grieve the wife who just a year ago was with him, and there will be the wife who is missing her husband with whom she has shared so many past Christmases. Children and grandchildren will be saddened by the absence of the parent and grandparent who just last year was in their midst.
But whatever Christmas is to us individually one thing is clear, and that is precious few ever stop to ask what did Christmas mean to Jesus? What did the incarnation necessitate for Jesus? What was involved with His taking on a human nature? The Apostle Paul answers these questions in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The incarnation necessitated Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to humble Himself. It involved an almost total eclipse of the splendor, the majesty, and the glory which He had with the Father before the world was (Jn 17:5). The glory which Isaiah beheld, the glory which caused Seraphim to cry “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the glory which caused Isaiah to say, “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Is 6:1-5: cf. Jn 12:41), was so veiled, clouded, and debased that He did not look like Himself. He did not look like God Almighty, like the Creator and Sustainer of all things, in whose presence mountains shake and angels hide their face.
Instead He was found in appearance as a man, and even then scarcely a man. He didn’t come as an attractive, appealing, desirable man, rather His appearance was devoid of any majesty or desirability whatsoever (Is 53:2). His appearance was marred more than any man (Is 52:14). He didn’t come as a popular, likeable, winsome man, but as a man who was despised and forsaken of men (Is 53:3), whose own family did not believe in Him (Jn 7:5), and, at best, considered Him to be misguided (Mk 3:21).
Jesus’ humiliation involved more than just taking on human flesh and assuming a human nature. He didn’t come in the nature of man before the fall, but “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rm 8:3); flesh that had all the infirmities, the weaknesses, the miserable effects of sin upon it such as hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, sadness, and mortality under which we groan every day.
Though He did not have a sin nature, His body bore the effects of sin. Though He was not a sinner, He looked like one, was accused of being one, and died the death reserved for the most heinous of sinners. He assumed a human nature in which sin had already blotted out its original glory. O, what a humiliation was this! To be begotten in the likeness of sinful flesh, the flesh of sinners, rebels, and haters of God; flesh that though not defiled by sin was miserably defaced by sin.
But Jesus suffered even greater humiliation than this in His incarnation. Not only did He assume a body marred by the effects of sin, but “He made Himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:7 KJV). He voluntarily made Himself the object of scorn and ridicule. He blotted out His honor and reputation. Those who saw Him would never have taken Him for the Son of God; rather He was scarcely afforded the honor of a man. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn 1:10, 11). What astonishing, incomprehensible self-denial and self-humiliation, that He who from eternity past enjoyed the smiles and honor of His Father, would voluntarily subject Himself to the scorn and hatred of wicked, sinful man. He who is adored and worshiped by angels would allow Himself to be trampled under the feet of rebels. His selfless humiliation made Him contemptible.
Jesus reached further depths of humiliation by taking His flesh from such an obscure birth to such obscure parents in such an obscure town. The circumstances of His birth made even His conception an object for town gossips and derision, “we were not born of fornication” (Jn 8:41). His flesh was not the flesh of nobility, but of a poor girl of Israel, betrothed to a carpenter, under all the disadvantages imaginable. He didn’t keep for Himself the dignity of being born in a house, but humbled Himself to be born in a stable. He wasn’t born in a glamorous city, but in a town too little to even be named among the clans of Judah (Mic 5:2).
We are told that God must humble Himself just to behold the things done in heaven and on earth (Ps 113:6). What a humiliation then for Him to have actually taken on flesh and dwelt among us. What a pattern for self-denial is here established for the Christian. What a pattern of love for the Father is given for us to follow.
If Jesus humbled Himself to wash His disciple’s feet in order to leave them an example, how much greater example of humility is His incarnation? How ready should Christians be to perform the lowliest acts of love and service to one another? Sadly, most people think that service to the church is being involved in activities and programs when in reality it is practicing the “one anothers”. Such service is much harder and more uncommon than having a title and going to meetings.
Tell me, did Jesus stoop and you cannot? Did Jesus humble Himself and make Himself of no reputation to exalt human pride and boost our self-esteem? Did Christ stoop so low so as to make salvation only a possibility for all, or will not such a great humiliation actually save all He intended? The greater His humiliation was, the more full and complete was His satisfaction. Is it not our great wickedness, our great helplessness, and our great need that required such a great humiliation?
Did Christ humble Himself so much for you, but you cannot even humble yourself enough to submit to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of His word?
Must you preserve your own pride by inventing schemes whereby you can claim some credit for your own salvation? Must the church invent gospels that exalt man, extenuate sin, and debase Christ’s humiliation?
As one church father so excellently said, “What more detestable, what more unworthy, or what deserves severer punishment, than for a poor man to magnify himself, after he has seen the great and high God, so humbled, as to become a little child? It is intolerable impudence for a worm to swell with pride, after it has seen majesty emptying itself; to see one so infinitely above us, to stoop so far beneath us.”
What more would you have Christ do for you? How much lower would you have Him stoop? Must He also preserve your pride? Must He also cater to your lusts, your desires, and your personal preferences? Must He also relinquish His holiness, His righteousness, His justice, and His sovereignty? Must He also allow you to dictate your own terms? Must He allow you to rewrite His Law and His word and invent your own practices? Must He fulfill all your worldly goals and ambitions? Must He allow you to be as God? The unbeliever would have Christ sink lower still, he/she would trample Christ under their feet and insult the Spirit of grace (Hb 10:29). For such people there is reserved, the author of Hebrews tells us, something far worse than dying without mercy (Hb 10:28, 29).
Did Christ humble Himself so low in becoming a man to save us? Then those who perish under the gospel must perish without any excuse other than their own obstinacy for refusing to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. This is the reason the world, for the most part, loves Christmas. It is because we have turned it into something it was never meant to be.
Rather than being a cause for self-humiliation and seeing the reality of our vile and wicked nature and recognizing our desperate and hopeless condition, for most people, Christ’s humiliation has been turned into an opportunity for the flesh. It has become an excuse to engage in self-indulgence, self-exaltation, and insincere expressions of worship and gratitude. The Christian’s reason for loving Christmas has nothing to do with what the world associates with Christmas.
My prayer for all those who may read this is that this Christmas, when you see the Babe in the manger, you would be humbled by the condescending grace, love, and self-abasement that, while we were yet sinners, moved Jesus Christ to humble Himself for such poor, miserable, vile, and helpless rebels as we. This is why the Christian loves Christmas. Such a sight should be cause for great humiliation on our part, not a party. It should move all who truly see it to pursue a life of humble, grateful, and loving obedience and submission to His word, and stimulate us to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).