Sermon for Sunday, December 24th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Isa 53:1-4 ESV] 1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
New Testament reading:
[Phl 2:1-11 ESV] 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
[Luk 2:1-21 ESV] 1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
The Humiliation of Christ.
This word has a theological meaning that is something different from the modern use.
In our modern use this means something like “others have picked on you.” To humiliate someone is make someone ashamed or embarrassed.” It is a sinful thing to humiliate someone.
But the Humiliation of Christ, that theological term, is a self-imposed or voluntary humility or humbling. It is a virtue, not a sin.
Our catechism asks the question:
Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.
There is much humiliation in the life of Christ, and especially in his death on the cross. But today we focus on his birth, and the humiliation there.
The Humiliation of Christ in His Birth is all that is entailed in his Incarnation, his coming to Earth in the form of a man. And this is humbling, because HE IS GOD. And coming to Earth is to stoop down from the realms of heaven and to hold back the power of God to become man. That is self-humbling, a humiliation.
This morning, I want us to look at 10 ways in which Christ humbled himself at birth. 10 ways.
1) He became man.
This is one we’ve already mentioned. It is called “the Incarnation.” The putting on of flesh. John, in His Gospel, even says “the Word BECAME flesh.” Certainly Jesus didn’t cease to be God, but He also became man. Christ is even called “a man” in a number of places. (Luke 24:19, John 1:30, John 10:33, Acts 2:22, 1 Corinthians 15:21, 1 Corinthians 15:47.) And there is a long debate — as long as the church has been around — over how Christ can be both man and God. That is certainly beyond the scope of today’s sermon.
We want to focus on the Humiliation of Christ, at His birth.
And first and foremost, “he became ma.”
But it is not only in the fact that he became a man.
John says “the Word became flesh AND DWELT AMONG US.” Immediately after “the word became flesh” we read “and dwelt among us.”
2) He dwelt among us.
That’s our second point. He dwelt among us. It is one thing to become man, but another to dwell among us sinners. Not only did Christ become man, but he left heaven and the came to our abode. This is like saying a Prince who cares for his people leaves the castle and comes to live among the commoners and work alongside them.
Work is a good thing. But some people of high opinions and exalted rank may think it degrading to be among regular joes. Yet Christ did exactly that, and it started at his birth. He didn’t get a job right then and there, but he was now among the people. He dwelt among us. What God would do that but one that loves us?
The false gods of the Greeks lived on Mt. Athos. And if they came down to the people, it was only to cause trouble, it was only for their good. But Christ came down among us, humbling himself to be at our level.He
How else was Christ’s humiliation manifested at his birth?
You know many of the answers here.
3) He was laid in a manger.
This is part of what the confession says “he was born in a low condition.”
Shortly after birth, Jesus was laid in a manger. A feeding trough.
A manger is a common, if not even rough and lowly, object. But a manger wasn’t a terrible choice. You put soft hay in it. It is up off the ground keeping the baby safe.
But still this was no bed. It was a humble beginning for a humble king. Not a bed befitting a king, but a place almost below the common people, a place for animals. Laid in a manger.
4) There was no room for him in the inn.
Another element of the “low condition” of Christ’s birth is that “there was no room for him in the inn.” And so he was born elsewhere. Where? It isn’t really known. Or, let’s say it is debated. Maybe a barn (where there would be a manger) but the problem is they didn’t really have barns back then. In the early church they often spoke of Christ being born in a cave, and there are a lot of such caves in Israel. Or he might have been born in a less desirable part of a house; something that wasn’t nice enough to be rented out as an inn.
Regardless, it was a birth of humble circumstances. He wasn’t even in his home. Joseph and Mary were traveling.
5) He was born to common people.
Then also, of Christ’s birth in a “low condition” is the fact that he was born to common people.
Well, although they were descended from King David, they were not wealthy. Joseph was just a carpenter. And Jesus, at probably a fairly young age, needed to work alongside his father. These were not wealthy people free from common labors. They were people who had to go through the daily grind for their wages.
The God of the Universe, born into a family without even the assurance of a salary. These were people that had to rely on God.
And that is an important point about relative poverty. When we lack money there is that benefit that it focuses us on relying on God. We don’t look to our pocketbooks for the answer to our problems, but trust in God that He will bring us through.
Christ surely had trust in God the Father as he came to Earth in “low condition.”
6) He was born in lowly Bethlehem.
Then, also in this “low condition” is the fact that Christ was born in lowly Bethlehem.
He was not born in Rome, or Athens, or even Jerusalem. This was not a notable city, Bethlehem, the house of bread in Hebrew. But, of course, it was the prophesied place of the messiah’s birth. And so this evening I’ll be looking at the Victory of Christ in His Birth. (The flip-side of what we’re looking at this morning.) For not only was there a humbling meekness in Christ, but an all-powerful victory as well.
Regarding these various elements of the “low condition” of Christ’s birth, I found a great quote of Thomas Watson, the Puritan.
“Christ came not in the majesty of a king, attended with his life-guard, but he came poor; not like the heir of heaven, but like one of an inferior descent. The place he was born in was poor; not the royal city Jerusalem, but Bethlehem, a poor obscure place. He was born in an inn, and a manger was his cradle, the cobwebs his curtains, the beasts his companions; he descended of poor parents.”
Well, we can call that “literary flourish.” I don’t know of any Bible text that tells us about Cobweb Curtains! But the point is well-taken. The place in which he was born was not prepared for him. Not in an earthly since (it wasn’t cleaned), but it was always known in the plan of God.
7) He was visited by shepherds.
Then, #7, in Christ’s humiliation – his humbling at Birth — we have the fact that he was first visited by shepherds.
It wasn’t dignitaries or kings or wealthy men who came to see Christ. They were busy with their business, and knew nothing of the Lord’s birth. But the Shepherds were aware because an angel of the Lord appeared to them and said “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”
God brought the shepherds, common people, there so that they would see Christ.
And being a shepherd might sound like a decent job to our modern ears. But this was tough, nasty work. Often the work of boys, young men. Not glamorous work, but dirty. So it is the rough and dirty shepherds who come see Christ. (Just as we, rough and dirty people, need to see Christ ourselves).
Christ isn’t for the “best” people. He didn’t come to save just the elite in society, he came for all His people, whether shepherds, carpenters, mothers, fisherman, or tax collectors. He humbled himself because of His love for ALL His people. I’ll-deserving people. Sinners.
8) He came in the form of a servant.
And, we know, #8, that “He came in in the form of a servant.”
Our reading from Philippians said “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Christ didn’t come to be served, but to serve.
That is humbling.
The God of all creation, here on earth, with His people, and what does he do? Does he say “bring me a great feast?” No, he says “I am the bread of Life.” He provides for the people.
9) His people did not receive him.
Then, #9 in our list of Christ’s humiliation at birth, we find from John chapter 1 that “His people did not receive him.”
[Jhn 1:10-11 ESV] 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
While you can say that this verse applies to the later stages of Christ life, it is also true of its beginning. There was no fanfare among the people at the birth of Christ. It was out of the way in quiet Bethlehem. Only a few, select of God, knew about it. Shepherds, wise men, and angels. (And Mary and Joseph of course).
So his people did not receive him. The Jews, yes. But also ALL people. And Christ came knowing that this would be the case. He deserves to be placed high above, and indeed one day every knee shall bow to him, but in the meanwhile, in his humiliation Christ became low, experiencing the rejection of man.
10) He came FOR US.
Finally, #10 in Christ’s humiliation, “He came FOR US.”
Again, Thomas Watson says this:
To whom did Christ come?. Was it to his friends? No; he came to sinful man. Man that had defaced his image, and abused his love; man who was turned rebel; yet he came to man, resolving to conquer obstinacy with kindness.
You know how hard that is! Surely we’ve each experience occasions where a person has essentially become an enemy. And this is terrible indeed. It is the last thing you want. Broken relationships within families, or among friends. Someone has perhaps hurt you in a way that makes it seem that reconciliation is impossible.
But look at Christ. In his humiliation, he came FOR US, the very people who have sinned against him. THAT is humbling. That is powerful.
On this subject them of Humility, I want to look at two applications.
Application 1: Follow in Christ’s Humility
From our New Testament text in Philippians we find that Christ’s humility is to be our example that we should follow.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Application 2: Let us Praise God for Christ’s Humiliation
And we’ll conclude with this.
We often speak of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, and rightly so. But, as one theologian many years ago noted “if we only stress the fact that Christ died on the cross for us, then we make too little of His sufferings for us.” Indeed, Christ’s sufferings began at his birth. He suffered and obeyed for us throughout His life, even starting with his Humiliation at His birth. So let us praise God for ALL of Christ’s work, starting from the moment he entered this world.
For no doubt, our understanding of Christ’s humiliation furthers or adoration of him. We adore him for what he has done for us.
I want to conclude then with a quote from Martin Luther that connects the Humiliation of Christ at His birth to God’s great goodness and therefore our need to praise Him.
When I am told that God became man, I can follow the idea, but I just do not understand what it means. For what man, if left to his natural promptings, if he were God, would humble himself to lie in the feedbox of a donkey or to hand upon a cross. God laid upon Christ the iniquities of us all. This is that ineffable and infinite mercy of God which the slender capacity of man’s heart cannot comprehend and much less utter—that unfathomable depth and burning zeal of God’s love toward us … Who can sufficiently declare this exceedingly great goodness of God.
Indeed, in Christ’s birth we see the great goodness of God.
So let us praise God this Christmas Day. And let us pray.