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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Stunning Humility of God

[The sermon can be heard here:]

There is just something about Christmas time. The tinsel, the pine trees, ornaments, lights, smells, the sounds of families laughing and being together again, along with the songs that conjure up memories of Christmases past. And yet there are the “other” Christmases that don’t warm the heart. Those two shoppers you saw fighting over the last toy on the shelf at the store. Scenes of harried and hassled people in the shopping malls, fretting over the quantity of gifts or the mounting debt they were accruing. The family meltdown last Christmas when Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary exploded with stabbing words and ghastly stares that poisoned everyone’s heart, as well as the advertisements that glorify and exalt selfishness, greed, lust, and envy. These are the sad scenarios of Christmas, which make it a repugnant and dreadful season for some.

But underneath the sounds and smells there is the rumor of something greater, of Someone who gave lavishly. There are stories echoed here and there of God giving Himself! And that’s what I want to address, the real story in Luke 1.26-56 that lies behind much of the buzz and gossip ricocheting around the malls, markets, and in the merry music. The story of the stunning humility of God!

First, God’s humility is seen in the humble human origins of His Son. “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary” (Luke 1.26-27).Nazareth was a poor shanty town out on the margins. It was not the place of power or importance, but out in the sticks. Joseph was a blue-collar laborer, a simple carpenter. Not a man of vast fortune or means. Mary was an unwed girl, younger than we would now be comfortable with, but of marriageable age for that time. The point is that God doesn't have His Son born into wealth, fame, fortune, power or prestige. Instead His Son arrives right modestly with no seeming likelihood of amounting to much. Even His birth gives all the earmarks dirt-poor poverty: born in a smelly stable, and laid in a rickety feeding trough! God’s humility is seen in the humble human origins of His Son. “Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake becamest poor; thrones for a manger didst surrender, sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.”

Next, God’s humility is seen in a humble girl to mother His Son. The angel announces to Mary that she will be the bearer of God’s own special Son. Mary’s response is rather startling, showing her humble and obedient heart, “Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word”” (1.38). Imagine the risk, the peril she placed herself in. She would be an unwed mother in a time and day when that would have landed her in perpetual shame in the eyes of her family and neighbors. But without worrying over social propriety, she says “yes” to God’s outrageous plan. And she does this without negotiating a prenuptial agreement, or bargaining for personal power. She makes no demand for God to respect her rights.

Mary’s faith radiates through her unpretentious willingness. As her older cousin, Elizabeth, described her, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (1.45). This humble, no-count girl (no-count, that is, to those who think they count) abandons herself to the goodness of God in faithful surrender, “And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name”” (1.46-49). She recklessly entrusts herself to the purpose of God in history, His World-Rescue Operation that He had promised through Abraham; and becomes an unending part of it, “And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever”” (1.50-55). Notice how, in her humble, believing surrender, she plays (almost) the role of a new Eve (Genesis 3.15). But instead of listening to the devilish whisper of the serpent by hankering after becoming a god, and then spawning a Cain; Mary is humble before God, and blessed to bring forth the Christ of God, the Savior of the world! God’s humility is seen in a humble girl to mother His Son. Thou who art God beyond all praising, all for love’s sake becamest man; stooping so low, but sinners raising, heavenward by Thine eternal plan.”

Finally, God’s humility is seen in the trauma, poverty and scandal. St. Paul wrote: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8.9). God works in the scandal, poverty and trauma of the birth of His Son to an unwed girl, in the most lowly setting possible….and this comes to a climactic and explosive head when some years later His Son is shamefully crucified, buried, and then three days later raised from the dead; He “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4.25). “Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through; the cross be born for me; for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.“ God’s humility is seen in the trauma, poverty and scandal. It is by this trauma, poverty and scandal that God’s Son makes those who cast their confidence onto Him truly and unendingly wealthy with the lavish love and life and mercy of God.

As you confidently embrace the Son of God, as you trust in and entrust yourself to this giving, humble God, Christmas takes on new meaning and fresh enjoyment. You are now freed to be humble. “…this day is born a Savior of a pure virgin bright, to free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s pow’r & might. O tidings of comfort and joy!“ As God in Christ humbled Himself to do for you what you could not do for yourself, then you no longer need to seek your “rights” and demand your “privileges“, walking around with your fists clinched & your jaw set. Instead you are liberated to serve and treat others as better than yourself (Philippians 2.3-8). And you find that in this way you are being joined with Mary, by a like precious faith, in God’s World-Rescue Operation promised to Abraham and climaxing in the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah. “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in; be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell: O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”


1 comment:

RichardGoodrich said...

Thanks Mike,

I agree with J.I. Packer, if you can once get the fact that God would step out of Heave to live and suffer a perfect life and then a perfect death then the rest of it should be no problem. Merry Christmas. P.S. I just picked up my son and family from DFW after 20 hours of flying from India. I am a very content GrandPa!