We cannot accept the Gift of Christmas without first humbling ourselves.
It’s hard keeping the balance between the technicalities and complexities of theology with the reality that the mysteries of God are comprehensible even to a child.
I believe the resolve to this tension is the reality that the Holy Spirit illuminates the Word of God (and the mysteries of God; 1 Cor. 2:1–16; 1 John 2:27) for those who have “ears to hear” (Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9; Rev. 3:22). Having “ears to hear” is nothing less than having a heart posture of submission to God, and of abandonment of pride and self-reliance; in a word, humility.
Rootedness in humility is the starting point of all orthodox theology. The book of Job in particular attests to this.
Two weeks ago, I wrote that the biblical teaching of incarnation (that God became human) was at the heart of the Christmas message. Furthermore, I commented about how difficult (and offensive) this idea can be. At the same time, as serious Christians who take the Bible seriously, we have to wrestle with, and embrace the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is, in fact, God. Embracing the incarnation begins with recognizing that we don’t have all the answers, and that the world doesn’t begin and end with me and my intellect—it’s a matter of taking ourselves off the throne of our own lives. It’s a matter of child-like faith as an extension of humility.
We find humility at the heart of the Christmas story.
Think about the characters in the story of Jesus’s birth for just a moment. There are Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, and the Shepherds (to name just some of them). For starters, of all the people in the world to have reason to rebel against Caesar Augustus’ decree to return to ancestral towns to be counted, it would be Mary! After all, she has the Creator of the Universe in her womb! Mary could have said, “Caesar who!? I’m the mother of the One True King!,” but she doesn’t. Mary doesn’t rebel; she humbly goes, trusting God.
What do you think the Wise Men thought when they realized that the star led them not to a palace or a royal home, but to a lowly manger; to a poor kid born among animals? Do you think they ever wondered to themselves, “Are we sure we got this right? Did we interpret the star correctly? Is this the baby who is the King of the Universe? Is this the Lord God Himself?” We don’t know what they thought, but what we do know is that they stayed and worshipped, no matter how ridiculous or unexpected Jesus may have seemed to them, or to others. They were humble.
Finally, we have the shepherds. Of all these characters in the story, the shepherds intrigue me the most. What intrigues me about the shepherds is that they are the ones to whom the angels announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8). Of all the people in the world, why the shepherds? Why are the shepherds the ones who have the privilege of receiving this message from heaven? Add to the mystery the fact that it’s very unlikely that the shepherds fully understood this announcement that this Jewish Messiah has been born, and that this baby is also the Lord God Himself.
I think this message was announced to the shepherds because of humility. Shepherding was a lowly profession. Shepherds would have had a hard time remaining ritually clean, which meant being cut off from the temple life that the teachers of the law, priests, Pharisees, and other respectable members of Jewish society would have enjoyed. Being unclean meant being marginalized. They were a humble bunch.
In sum, the characters in the Christmas story who accepted the gift of Jesus, had ears to hear because they were humble.
Like the Wise Men, are you ready to bow before a King, even if he’s not what you expect? Like the shepherds, are you ready to pay homage to Jesus, God-made-flesh, even if you don’t fully understand.
1 Corinthians 1:27–29 sums it up well with this,
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.