Jesus’ birth involves more humiliation than glory. The Son of God was in glory, but he saw us living in the slimepit of sin, and he loved us so much that he came into this slimepit to save us. He gave up his glory and he lived in humble circumstances. When Jesus was born, people were not amazed by his glory. There was no glory in putting a baby in an animal’s feed trough.
Jesus didn’t deserve any shame, but he was willing to live in it, until we killed him. That is the example God has given us. It shows us what love is. It shows us what God is like. Jesus told Philip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). He wasn’t talking about appearance, but about love and humility.
When Christ became flesh, it was not some strange deviation in his character. Rather, it shows what God is like all the time. God is always so loving that he is willing to come to our slimepit to rescue us. He is always willing to put his own comfort and glory aside so he can rescue us. This is true greatness. Glory is not about power and bright lights. True greatness is not in strength or money. True greatness is humility and service, and that is just as true of God as it is for us. God’s greatness is seen in his love, in his willingness to serve. The birth of Jesus shows that.
To put it in human terms, it would be like Pharaoh decided to give up the throne, give away his wealth and join the Hebrew slaves in the claypits, trying to make bricks without straw – not just for a day, but for 30 some years. If any Pharaoh actually did this, we would think he was insane, but God did this on an even greater scale. He gave up more, and he descended even more—and this is what God is like all the time. His glory and greatness is seen in how much he is willing to give up, not in how much he has now.
A birth in shame
Think about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. He did not come when the Jewish people were a strong nation. Rather, he came when they were despised and ruled by a pagan empire. He did not come to the most important city—he grew up in a region called “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
Jesus was born in embarrassing circumstances, less than nine months after Mary and Joseph married. God could have easily caused the conception after Mary and Joseph were married. It would have been just as easy for the Holy Spirit to create a baby in a married woman as in an unmarried woman. It would have been easy to avoid the appearance of evil, but God did not. Even before Jesus was born, Jesus was in a compromised situation.
Luke tells us that Joseph went to Bethlehem because everyone was supposed to go to their family’s city to be counted for the census (Luke 2:3-4). I don’t know, but it seems that Joseph would have had at least a few brothers or cousins in the family of David who would have gone to Bethlehem, too. But we hear nothing of them, about how they might have helped Joseph and Mary. They were on their own.
God loved the world so much that he gave them his only Son—and the world didn’t want him. They knew God only as a God of power and wealth; they had forgotten about the God who walked in the garden of Eden calling for his wayward children. They had forgotten about the God who had a still, soft voice.
The world didn’t want God, but God still loved the world. Even when we were sinners, even when we were ungodly, God loved us and sent his Son to die for us (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). That is what God is always like. The birth of Jesus should remind us of that. Christmas should remind us of his great humility.
A touch of glory
The angels were a touch of glory in the nativity story. Here were the bright shining lights, the heavenly choir singing praises to God. But where did they appear? Outside of town, with shepherds, the lowest level of society. Shepherds were so despised that they couldn’t even testify in court. No one trusted them because they moved from one town to another. But God sent his angels to shepherds, not to priests and kings.
Some of the king’s advisors in Jerusalem knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4-6), but they didn’t bother to make the five-mile trip. God was drawing the far-off, but the ones who were close, couldn’t even see the star. The glory of Christmas was so hidden that only a few people from the east could take the hint.
Not long after this, an angel warned the family: “Flee for your life. The king is out to kill you.” The Christ child was taken to Egypt, becoming a refugee in the land the Jews had left—the land of slavery, the land of outcasts. This is the glory of being poor, persecuted, rejected by the people you have come to save. This is not the way we usually think of glory, but it is God’s kind of glory—the glory of love and self-sacrifice. Whoever wants to be great, Jesus said, let him become a servant. This is true greatness because this is the way God is.
Just like Jesus
God is like a king who steps into the mud to help us make bricks without straw. He is like a king who sends his Son to his people even though he knows they will kill him. God is like someone who sacrifices himself to keep his enemies (that’s us) from being punished. God is like Jesus—all the time. He is like a person who loves children, touches lepers and socializes with tax collectors and prostitutes. God is like someone who was hated without a cause, beaten without mercy and crucified without committing a crime.
God lets people hate him and beat up on him—not because he is a fool, but because he knows the best way for us to come to our senses is to see what selfishness really leads to. He knows that the best way to overcome evil is not by force, but by persistent love.
Thankfully, God has the power to pull it off. He is not hurt by our flailings. He does not get depressed when we reject him. He does not get vindictive when we insult him. He is bigger than that, so much bigger that he can be patient with us. He can be a helpless baby, he can be a crucified criminal, he can stoop that low because he loves us.
In this way, Christmas shows us what God is like. It shows us how much he loves us. It shows us the extreme that he went to in order to save us. God is so glorious that he left his glory and came down into the slimepit to save us. He was willing to be a baby conceived before marriage. He was willing to be born in a stable, to be rejected, to flee to Egypt. He was willing to give it all up, even his life, for us.
A lesson for us
God wants us to be like he is, to be like Jesus was. Not in appearance, not in power, but in love and humility. He set the example for us, and Christmas, or the birth of Jesus, has a message for us in how we behave toward one another. Jesus said that a servant is not greater than the master. If he, our lord and teacher, has served us, we should also serve one another (Matthew 20:26-28). Whoever wants to be great should become a servant. Jesus wants us to go out of our way to help others. We are to use our time and our resources to help others. Jesus also said, “If you want to follow me, take up your cross.” Be willing to lose, even your life, and you will be great.
This is the way we are to follow Jesus’ example, to let him live in us. We don’t follow his example in keeping Hanukkah, in cleansing the temple, or in going to synagogues on the Sabbath. But he specifically says that we are to follow his example in serving others. That’s the message of Christmas and the path of true glory.
We need to identify with that baby in the manger, to be like he is. We need to identify with the woman who had to give birth in a stable, and with the family who were refugees in another nation. Our role model is someone who loved his enemies, who was rejected time and again, and yet loved them. He was taken advantage of, ridiculed, despised and convicted of a crime, all because he wanted to help us. That is truly praiseworthy, truly worth celebrating!
Author: Joseph Tkach