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THE  HUMILITY  OF  THE  MESSIAH

By Rev. LyndanSyiem

We usually associate Christmas with angels in the night sky announcing the birth of JesusChrist; shepherds who witnessed the angels and went searching for the new born baby in Bethlehem; the Star in the East that guided the Wise Men to the Christ child; their gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. These gifts signified him as prophet, priest and king: a mighty prophet from God; an unusual priest who would sacrifice his own life for all of humankind; and a King who would rule in the hearts and minds of men and women who followed him. Another fact of Christmas was that Jesus was born in exceptionally humble circumstances.

He was born in a stable, which is a shelter where animals are kept. He slept in a manger, which is a feeding trough made of wood or stone that contains grass or hay or grain for farm animals.He was born surrounded by cows, horses, donkeys and perhaps sheep. He was descended from the royal house of the great King David and the magnificent King Solomon. By rights he should have been born in the palace at the royal city of Jerusalem. But God arranged circumstances so that he was born in a humble stable in a small village.

Now a stable is not necessarily a dirty, smelly place. Jewish cattle rearers had a religious obligation to keep their animals clean. But it certainly was a humble place. Nobody but the poorest people stayed in stables. It is most surprising, and therefore significant, that the Messiah entered the world through a stable and not a palace. But why a stable?Why not a house? … Because there was no house available in Bethlehem, not even a single room –no room in the few local inns and lodges, no room even in private homes. There had been a sudden influx of people to Bethlehem and all the rooms were fully occupied. As it happened, Jesus was born during the time when Augustus Caesar ordered a general census of his vast Roman empire.

 

People throughout the empire had to register their names at their native places. So all the rooms at Bethlehem were occupied by Jews who had returned home for the census. Joseph and Mary had travelled 130 kilometres from the town of Nazareth in the North to Bethlehem in the South.But there was no room for them, even though Mary was about to give birth. So they had to stay in a wooden barn or perhaps even a cave. And the babyJesus was laid in a manger. It was not a proper bed but it was comfortable: the hay was soft and Mary had wrapped the baby in swaddling cloths.

 

But there is a deeper reason why Jesus was born in a stable. It was to show his identification with the common people and his associationwith the poor and powerless. Now Jesus was the Son of God:Scripture teaches that he was supernaturally conceived through the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary.From his mother’s side he was biologically descended from the royal line of King David. From Joseph, his earthly,legal father, Jesus also traced his legal lineage back to David. As the divine and the royal Messiah, people naturally expected him to be born in a palace.

 

In fact the Wise Men initially went searching for him at King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. They were not wrong. The palace was the logical place to go if you were seeking for the “King of the Jews.” But in choosing a stable over a palace and accepting a manger over a royal bed, Jesus was revealing a different kind of Kingship, a king who was humble, a king who would serve others. In the first century Jewish nationalist imagination, the Messiah would be a strong, haughty, all-conquering warrior. They were utterly shocked by this simple, unassuming, peaceable Messiah.

Throughout his life Jesus remained consistently humble and approachable. He spent considerable time with the poor and needy; he reached out to the outcasts and the rejects of society. He cared for the sick and healed them; he served the dispossessed and hungry and bid his followers share their possessions with others. So when Jesus asked his disciples to follow his example, he was calling them to self-denial and service. Of course his followers were notable to perfectly follow his example; often they failed miserably. But at least they had a noble ideal before them.

But is humility effective? Can it really impact the world? What is the use of being humble when the world respects only wealth and power? … But look at the example of Mahatma Gandhi. With the weapons of humility and sacrifice he defeated the might of the British Empire in India. Just think of the British Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. At its height in 1945, there were over two million military personnel. Think of the powerful bureaucracy and the well-disciplined police that governed British India. They numbered over half a million in 1947. Yet Gandhi and his freedom fighters defeated the British with humble, non-violent resistance. What Western missionaries preached as religious virtue, Gandhi transformed into a successful political strategy.

 

It is indeed amazing that God, the Creator of the Universe, with all his power, knowledge and authority can still be humble. Scripture teaches that Jesus was the Son of God. He reflected the character of God, he was the mirror image of God. He had no compelling need to be humble, yet he displayed humility in his brief thirty-three years on earth. The Apostle Paul wrote that, “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death –even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Throughout his life and even in death Jesus the Messiah exemplified humility. He did not possess a palace. He did not even have a home of his own. He was a wandering preacher who ministered to both rich and poor, saints and sinners, Jew and Gentile. He even washed the feet of his disciples, which is the duty of the lowest servant.

In North India and in South India, people bow and touch the feet of their parents and elders as a mark of respect. In the many years that I’ve lived at various places in North and South India, I’ve gradually learnt to appreciate this cultural practice which is generally not understood by the North East tribes. Elders do not have to demand respect but younger people automatically recognize their elders’ stature and bow before them. In a similar Middle Eastern culture of bowing and deference, it is significant that the shepherds and the Wise Men bowed before the baby Jesus. Though he had humbled himself, they clearly recognized that he was not an ordinary human being but the Son of God who had become human. Humility does not veil divinity.

If the Messiah was humble, his followers must likewise be humble. Jesus made it such a prime concern in his life and teachings that all his followers, whether priest, pastor, preacher or lay person, will be evaluated on the criterion of humility.What is humility? Humility is obedience, as we read in Philippians 2:8. Jesus in his earthly life was perfectly obedient to God the Father. Obedience is humility in practice. Disobedience is exalting ourselves above God. Disobedience is rebellion against God. If you are obedient to God in your public and personal life, you are truly a humble person. If you are not obedient, you are a proud person.Mere bowing is not humility; bowing sans obedience is meaningless.

Only the humble before God, can truly be humble before people. Otherwise it is just an outward show. Humility means recognizing God for who he is and acknowledging his authority over us.Humility is not humiliation. Humiliation in putting others down. Humility is recognizing God as Sovereign over our lives and that all people are equals with one another.In the same way, bowing before elders is not humiliation but rendering the respect due to them. Humility is not thinking poorly of yourself but acknowledging God for your life and your achievements.

Jesus overturned stereotypes of the Messiah. It was not with force but with shining humility that Jesus touched the hearts of ordinary people in the Jewish regions of Judea, Galilee and even in mixed-race Samaria. In contrast, the religious leaders of his time had become incorrigibly proud of their ancestry and religion. There was hubris –fatal, overweening pride in their nation’s privileged position in God’s plan for the world. They were arrogant towards Gentiles and the outcasts and the marginalizedof society. The time was ripe for a Messiah, a Saviour who would gather up the despised and the forsaken.

Jesus came with a message of love and forgiveness; reconciliation and restoration. Your sins can be forgiven. You can have a relationship with God. He himself would be the sacrifice for their sins: his name is Jesus, which means “he will save his people from their sins.” People who were burdened with guilt and condemnation found hope and peace. God would restore their broken lives and grant them a place in heaven. This simple message, delivered through the powerful medium of humility, eventually won the hearts of multiplied millions across the world.

 

Unfortunately, we the followers of Jesus have not been as humble and loving as our Master was. Sometimes we,Christians who bear his name,have been downright arrogant and self-seeking. Christmas therefore comes as an annual reminder of the lowly-birth and humility of our Saviour. We must search ourselves and ask for forgiveness. At Christmas we are gently reminded of the supreme example of humility and service. Humility is not weakness; humility is being exactly who we are in the sight of God; humility is truly followingthe Messiah.

May God grant all of us a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

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