The humiliation of God is not the first thing that springs to mind when we think of Christmas. The mood of the season is festive. The carols we sing speak of the King of heaven coming to earth to usher in a reign of peace.
Even the familiar nativity scenes are cosy and attractive – set in the kind of English Country Cottages barn-conversion that costs a tidy sum to rent for a Christmas break. Humiliation is not even on the radar screen. But the Bible’s scenario is rather different.
The Bible starts dropping hints about Christ’s coming long before the angel Gabriel ever appeared to Mary in Nazareth. A thousand years before the Messiah King was born, another king of Israel sang about Christ and the salvation he would bring.
In Psalm 22 David writes, ‘I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised by the people … they pierced my hands and my feet … they divided my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots’ (Psalm 22:6, 16, 18).
That never happened to David himself, so what was he talking about? God was showing him beforehand the things that Christ would suffer when he died upon the cross. Little wonder that Jesus used the opening words of the Psalm to express his agony – ‘My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?’
We now know the answer to that question, of course. Jesus was forsaken by God as he suffered for our sins – he ‘who knew no sin [was made] sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Similar clues were dropped as history unfolded. God’s message to the world was augmented by successive prophecies about the coming Christ. Seven centuries before Christ came, Isaiah spoke of a servant-king who would suffer degrading and humiliating treatment in accomplishing God’s saving purpose (read Isaiah chapter 53).
Behind the glitz
However, it’s only at the great moment itself that the truth finally comes to light. It is here that we really do need to strip away the glitz of Christmas to remind ourselves of what really took place.
The stable and the manger where the infant Jesus first sampled the air of planet earth were anything but nice. They were dirty, dank and unhygienic – no place for any self-respecting mother to have her child.
Furthermore, the last thing Mary would have broadcast was that she was ‘with child’ as an unmarried woman. Children born out of wedlock were called derogatory names! Scrape away the glitter and we find humiliation at every turn.
Yet the Son of God suffered his greatest humiliation the moment he was conceived in Mary’s womb. The infinite and eternal Son of God steps into our humanity by becoming a zygote in a pregnant teenager! Charles Wesley captures it eloquently in one of his hymns:
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.
Christ entered our world in a cloak of shame.
The worst was yet to come
As salvation history moved towards its climax, who could conceive of God himself stooping to such depths to fulfil his plan of redemption? But worse was yet to come.
This God-in-human-flesh, who stepped down from the heights of heaven to the squalor of a borrowed stable, was to plumb unimaginably greater depths. In the words of the apostle Paul, ‘He humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:8).
It wasn’t just the scandal of crucifixion – a punishment reserved for the lowest of the low – or even the manner of that death, which literally stripped away every last shred of dignity and decency.
It was the humiliation of being ‘made sin’ for the sake of his people. One who was innocent and pure, voluntarily took upon himself the accumulated guilt and impurity of all his people throughout history – past, present and future. In an eternity encompassed in a moment of history, he bore to the full what they deserved.
What on earth was going on in the mind of God to subject his own precious Son to such depths of shame and degradation? David put his finger on it when he said, ‘You stooped down to make me great!’ (Psalm 18:35).
God’s desire from the outset was for the human race to reflect his own glory. Made in God’s image, they were created to exhibit on earth the glory that was his in heaven. He wanted human beings to share his glory.
But that could only happen if the humiliation our race brought upon itself by sin was somehow dealt with. The only One capable of doing that was God’s own Son. And it only happened when he took our humiliation that we might share his glory!