One of the amazing things about Christmas is that it brings us on a collision course with the very extravagance of humility.
Have you ever thought deeply about the circumstances of God entering the world? Have you pictured a city, an inn, a house, that would not give up room to a woman agonizing in labor, forcing her to give birth in a stable? Or, contemplated the fact that only a handful of people, day laborers and astrologers, actually saw or knew about the Ancient of Days bursting forth into the world? Or that, by all accounts, no one even really mentioned this universe-altering event happening for another 30 years, as the child grew to manhood in obscurity? Have you pondered that his actual ministry was only a two or three year period, healing and preaching to a relative handful of people in a backwater outpost of the Roman Empire, where no self-respecting soldier or diplomat would ever seek to be stationed? When one stands back and looks at His end at arms-length, he was executed as a common criminal, seemingly a mission failure. It was pretty easy to see why so many saw Jesus a stumbling block to their faith.
And yet, as J.B. Phillips notes, 1500 years after the collapse of this great empire, this seeming little failure of a man is revered as savior and Lord by millions of living people, and billions across the generations. He is their closest companion, the one to whom they have relinquished their lives. He has transformed cultures, divided nations and people, and become the most pivotal figure in human history. On top of it all, His followers know He conquered death, broke evil’s back, and set in motion the ultimate restoration of creation marred by the sin of man.
That is the paradoxical miracle of Christmas: abject humility, yet cataclysmically devastating in its effect.
This is still how Christ works in the human heart- not as gale-force wind, as pillar of fire, big and bold. We pray big and bold, want 48-point font-word from God. We seek signs, wonders, and grand gestures. While He certainly can come that way, most often Christ sweeps through the corners of our lives, not with grand, sweeping gestures, but with a whisper. Because God desires humility, and an attuned ear, and eyes that are looking.
Phillips says the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” really only applies with shallow, contemptuous people. It isn’t true with your wife, or your husband, or your faithful, true friends. In those cases, familiarity- that is, talking with each other, listening to and learning about each other, exploring each other’s lives- leads to deeper knowledge and life transformation. Author and speaker Charlie Jones famously said you will be the same person you are today in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet. We discover true relationship with God, and access the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, through those things: by humbly seeking after Him through prayer and searching the Scriptures to know Him more deeply.
The fact many of us don’t have this knowledge, this relationship and this power says more about our lack of willingness to humbly stay in there, to search the Scriptures and listen for the voice, than it does about God’s willingness to speak to us or work through us. We seek the immediate pillar of fire, but instead God wants to lead us through the wilderness for 40 years-He knows that humility transforms lives, and life transformation is a long, walk through the desert.
At the visitation following my friend Horace’s memorial service a few weeks ago, as I spoke with most of my peers, there was one overriding sentiment among them: “Man, I need to step up my game; to get busy.” Horace had transformed so many lives, and so many families. The Spirit was strong in him. And, it chastened and challenged all of us. It made us want to step up, not to work harder, but to approach God and His Word more humbly and deeply, to feel His devastating impact on our lives, and in turn become extravagant vessels of grace for others. Like Horace. Like our Lord. Like Christmas.