CHRISTMAS: The soil of humility
(I was tasked to be the devotional speaker at our OMF Christian Writers' Fellowship [CWF] Christmas party last week. Some of those who failed to attend have requested that I post my reflections. Sharing with you the abridged version.)
When I reached the age of reason, the first thing that would come to my mind on and about Christmas was: HUMILITY. I’d imagine the circumstances of Jesus’ birth—no room in the inn, manger, shepherds, etc.
Why would the Greatest of all, the Owner of all, the Wisest of all, and the One who needs nothing else would come to an earth filled with evil men and be birthed as One of them?
Incredible. But such is humility—inconceivable, mind-blowing, and hardly achievable by mortals with a sinful heart. Tim Keller wrote in Christianity Today, “Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves.”
And here I am talking about it tonight. It’s almost Christmas after all, and if we can put a date on when humility was birthed or came into our consciousness, it was on Christmas.
The word humility is from the Latin word humilis, meaning “low, lowly.” It literally means “on the ground,” from humus (earth). As humans, we are “lowly creatures of earth.”
But do we see ourselves that way? The way we really are? Meaning, are we humble? Are you? Am I?
Our pastor said in one of his sermons, “If you say—or even just think that you are humble—you are not.”
And yet, humility is crucial for you and me as Christian writers. Because we can only receive Christ through meekness and humility, upon which we hinge all our writings. Matthew 5:3 says, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.” In verse 5, “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.”
Now knowing how BIG God is in relation to our humanity, how can we not feel small?
Philippians 2:6-8 spells it out for us: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
Can we even come close to such humility?
Jesus’ humility was a planned, conscious act.
Let me digress a bit and mention a planned, conscious act as an illustration that is closest to my circle. I personally think that some of the humblest human beings on earth—and that is not just to make them feel good—are the book editors.
Whose name is on the cover? Writer. Who gets all the credit on launching day? Writer. Who is lionized by readers? Writer. Who gets quoted? Writer. Who gets invited for a selfie? Writer. Who gets interviewed by media? Writer. Who knows the editor’s name? Only the writer. And she does not even mention that name—not as much as she should.
But editors, think NOT about it—or humility, as Tim Keller said, will leave.
One other verse that we quote on Christmas is Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Does that make sense? Not to our limited understanding. Would we even take a blame for someone we love? Well, I am sure mothers, whenever necessary, would take the blame for their children—but not for other people, not even for their husbands.
Jesus’ humility was a sense of fullness in Himself, given for the good of unworthy earth creepers like us. It was intentional, purposeful. He lowered Himself to make the apex of His glory accessible by sinners so they may delight in it.
His humility—that sprang from a soil called Christmas—therefore makes the strongest connection between His birth’s ordinariness and the extraordinariness of the great news for us:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28–30
His lowliness relieves us from every trouble we would ever encounter. If He were not lowly, He would not have agreed to His humiliating death on a cross. And if He had not died for us, you and I would be crushed into nothingness under the heavy weight of our sins. He lowered himself to the level of lowlifes and people of the gutter to take our condemnation for us.
Now, aren’t those more than enough reasons for us to follow His lead and work at being humble ourselves?
And what are we—the people for whom he humbled himself? We are 1) finite 2) weak and 3) sinful, and therefore have no reason to boast at all. As we Christians have known from the day we turned away from our old selves and received Him, our salvation cannot be earned through our work, but through His Grace, which has been given FREE.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9
So in addition to our being finite, weak, and sinful, we have two “divine machinery” so to speak, to humble us: free grace and a role model, Jesus—a self-denying and sacrificial Servant Who came for us on Christmas.
As Christian writers, we are called to join Jesus in this conscious self-humbling. Our written words, crafted through the way we live, must always recognize our smallness in our relationship with Christ.
In all our writings, John 3:30 prescribes, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
Looking to that first Christmas and reading Scripture about how BIG God is, our relationship with Him would become deeper and deeper, and in the process, we will come to realize how small we are compared to His bigness. The bigger He is in our life, the smaller and less we become.
Remember your first published book? Wasn’t that a peak experience? A source of indefinable pride? That very first, and the succeeding published manuscripts for that matter, are like badges of honor. We writers get congratulated all around.
It is so easy to be spoiled by the applause, approval, and commendation of readers. It is so tempting to credit the book’s success to our own smarts. It is so appealing to acknowledge the attention given to an author on book tours, book talks, radio and TV guesting.
Guilty as charged.
But Christmas is precisely the soil from which HUMILITY was planted for us to fertilize, nourish, and grow. Matthew 23:12 says, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
That verse is deceptively simple. The problem is that it takes great humility to understand humility, and even more to resist the pride that comes so naturally while talking about humility.
That’s why attaining humility is not a step-by-step process. God, with His infinite wisdom, so designed and defined humility on Christmas for us to keep looking back and reminding ourselves what this shy word is all about—and continue living it.
More than ever, as the world gets darker and the end draws nearer—with people becoming lovers of themselves more and more passionately as evidenced by the spread of selfies on social media—we need to be aware of the poison of self-absorption. It is all around us and may already be within us: in social media, in newspapers, on TV. We see it in our political leaders. We see it in our friends and even family. We see it in our neighbors. We hear and see boasting everywhere.
If and when—by design or mindful effort—we try to be humble and finally begin to have what theologians call "a humble turn of mind" in ourselves, please, let us not be proud of our humility.
Tim Keller is right: humility is extremely timid. If you talk about it, it blushes, it hides, and it scampers away. So I’ll stop talking about it. I enjoin you and myself to simply look upon the One who so humbled Himself beginning on Christmas because He loves us all—authors and editors alike.
One last look at humility.
I think Andrew Murray had the right words, more than a hundred years ago, that define for us humility.
From his book “HUMILITY: The Journey toward Holiness,” he wrote, “Humility is the only soil in which the graces root; the lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows Him as God to do all.”