As the Sundays in Advent proceed at their usual breakneck pace, I continue to think about lessons of the Advent story that I can practice. First we looked at empathy and then we looked at miracles. Today I am thinking about humility.
Do I really need to point out the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth? It occurred in a barn after all, surrounded by animals. That is humble even by rather poor standards of the day. The humbleness of the situation is only accentuated by the stories of shepherd and angels and wise men and King Herod who thought such a humble birth was a threat to his vaunted position. God become man first appeared to our eyes in the muck and filth of a building meant to house beasts of burden and yet the proudest and highest of the time considered such a birth of note. Never has anyone higher found themselves in lower circumstances. It does not get more humble. (Save for the cross.)
I can think of no time when the need for humility has been more apparent in our nation. Roy Moore’s defeat ties with tax reform as the biggest story of the week and Moore’s behavior is the least humble I have witnessed from a public figure claiming faith in a very long time. From his staying in the race when things turned so south to his continuing claims it’s not over, the man simply cannot take a hint that he needs to get out of the spotlight. I would go so far as to say that the self-righteousness, the braggadocio and the lack of humility we have seen from Roy Moore is as unChristian in nature as the pro-choice stance of his opponent. Worst of all this lack of humility in the public eye has left Christianity generally with a black eye and left the forces for the better in the Senate in a weaker position than they were. Moore’s self-righteousness comes at a very high and very practical cost.
Humility is a difficult thing to practice for the more one tries, the more one congratulates oneself on some accomplishment in humility, the less humility is actually present. In point of fact if one consciously sets aside some desire for the other, the very necessity of having to exercise conscious thought even if it results in a humble act is indicative of at least residual pride. Deep humility, true humility is instinctive.
Humility does not deny reality either. Many people, many deeply humble people, are also extraordinarily gifted. Denying such gifts is not humility, it is denying that which God has given. Humility is rather using those gifts for the benefits of others instead of your own self-aggrandizement.
I have quoted it many times on this blog, but nothing describes humility better than Philippians 2:1-8. Note as you read the words of the Apostle Paul, describing Christ’s humility that he does not deny that Jesus was God incarnate:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
I love the phrase “emptied Himself.” That is humility, emptying ourselves, all our gifts, all our resources in service to others.
Praying for humility is a dangerous thing. God answers prayer and praying for humility typically results in one finding oneself in humbling circumstances. Some lessons are hard and humility is one such lesson. And yet it is a lesson we all need. My prayer is that we be open to the lesson.