God and humiliation are not words that belong together.
Glory, yes. Holiness. Justice. The end of the book of Exodus seems appropriate: when God comes near, not even Moses can come near because God’s glory is too much for us to handle (Exodus 40:34-35).
But how could God humble himself? “How did Christmas day feel to God?” asks Philip Yancey. “Imagine for a moment becoming a baby again: giving up language and muscle coordination, and the ability to eat solid food and control your bladder. God as a fetus! Or imagine yourself becoming a sea slug—that analogy is probably closer. On that day in Bethlehem, the Maker of All That Is took form as a helpless, dependent newborn.”
Jesus willingly laid aside the glory of heaven and became human. God himself took on a family tree. Creator and creature joined together. He became a human being. God the Son had brothers. God the Son went to sleep. He was fully human. In some ways, as Bavinck points out, Jesus enjoyed fewer privileges than Adam. Adam was created as an adult; Jesus was born as a helpless babe. When Adam came, everything was prepared for him; when Jesus came, no one expected him, and there was not even room for him in the inn. “Adam came to rule, and to subject the whole world to his dominion. Christ came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
At the same time, he remained God. Even in the manger, God the Son continued to uphold the universe with his divine power. “He has not ceased to be in the form of God,” writes Robert Letham. “There is no subtraction, only addition.” Or, as Athanasius put it, “Even when present in a human body and himself quickening it, he was, without inconsistency, quickening the universe as well.”
I can’t get over all of this. One of the challenges of preachers like me is that Christmas can start to become dull. Having preached at Christmas for over three decades, it can seem like I’ve preached every text and covered every angle. Not even close. I was struck by David Cassidy’s words last week: “I’m running out of time, not text. Or wonder. The problem with Advent & Christmas messages isn’t knowing what to say, it’s deciding what not to say — well, at least for this year. How inadequate I am for the task of telling this story of stories, this fulfillment of every longing.”
I can’t get over the humiliation of Christ.
You wouldn’t think that the words God and humiliation would ever go together, and yet they do. What’s even more amazing is that the incarnation is only the beginning of Christ’s humiliation. Jesus came to die. Eternity won’t be long enough to marvel at all of this.
Bavinck calls the incarnation “a deed of condescending goodness.” Indeed.
This Christmas, I’m marveling that God the Son would humble himself. What an amazing God. What a story, a story that’s truer and better than any story we could imagine, and that points us to a God who is wonderful beyond all comprehension.