Humility and Incarnation
Have you ever seen a baby kick from inside a pregnant mother’s belly? I mean really kick, so that you can see the little foot’s imprint moving rapidly across the belly. It’s like something out of Alien. But it’s also pretty jaw droppingly magnificent. There’s a baby in there… a little human in tight quarters, antsy to get out and stretch.
As I watched a baby kick inside the belly of a pregnant friend a few weeks back, I was awestruck by the thought that came to my mind: Jesus was once doing this inside Mary’s belly. Jesus, the God of the Universe, the creator of all things (including the very ideas of birth, babies, bellies, etc), was once a minute little baby, cramped inside of a belly, unable to do anything much except kick and change positions slightly in a very crammed space. How crazy is that?
The Incarnation. How can it be comprehended?
It seems to me that one of the biggest lessons/realities of the Incarnation is that of humility. Humility seems too soft a word for it, actually: the notion that God himself, the king of the universe, left his throne and came down to earth. But not only that: He took on human form! And not only that: He started as a baby, helpless, crying, unable to survive on his own. And not only that: He was born in a manger, around farm animals, a baby who grew up to be a carpenter and died at a relatively early age, terribly and embarrassingly on a cross. And this was God.
Humility is the theme of Christ’s life. A God who freely subjected himself to the most unfathomable of all degradations. A God who could have done anything he wanted, but didn’t. He limited himself. He humbled himself. He of all Beings whose greatness would warrant self-satisfaction. Why? To show us an example of humanity as it should be. To teach us a lesson we’ve forgotten since Adam and Eve first fell in the Garden. A lesson about humility.
It’s something I know I always need reminding of. It’s a lesson I chronically forget. I forget about it in the dozens of times I check my Facebook or Twitter pages each day, wondering if anyone’s said anything about or in response to me. I forget about it in the regular moments when I care too much about what others write about what I write or say or think about me. I forget about it when I complain about not getting paid enough or when I silently lament not getting enough respect for things I’ve done. I forget about it every day, every hour, every minute pretty much… when my pride insists to me that I’m great, awesome, deserving, eloquent, talented, wise, important.
I am none of those things. Because God is all of those things, and yet he shunned it all, stripped it all away and came as a baby to live humbly and die on a cross.
Gloria in excelsis Deo indeed.
Pride has been the problem all along. Since Adam and onward through me, the pride of thinking I know best, or I deserve better, or I am at least as smart as God, has characterized the sin problem of man. And so it makes sense that perfect, ultimate humility–in the Incarnation of God as a baby and the crucifixion of Christ on the cross–would usher in the solution.
And indeed it also makes sense that those who followed Christ and carried on his kingdom would also be called to humility. For humility is the ultimate affront to and underminer of pride. In this world, pride leads to every bad thing: to politicians destroying nations because they can’t give any ground to their opponents; to people using sex, drugs, violence, food, etc. to feel better about themselves; to relationships gone awry because one or the other party can’t put the other’s interests ahead of their own; to the 1%, the 99% and the 100% of us who in some way believe we deserve better than what we have.
In such a world, humility is revolutionary. Focusing away from the self is countercultural. Denying the self and carrying the burdens of others is the way to change the world.
It’s not about me. I’m just a speck of dust on a tiny grain of sand on a little planet in a medium sized galaxy, which itself is a speck of dust in the scope of the cosmos. And yet, ironically, this is what Jesus appeared to be too, that dark night in the dirty manger so many years ago. Indeed, humility can do great things for the world.