Christmas is fast approaching and, as I so often do at this time of the year, I feel tension between Christmas as a day to commemorate the birth of Jesus and Christmas as a day to exchange gifts and spend time with family. I don’t think there is any good reason to feel this tension, as if these things cannot co-exist, and yet it is there year after year.
As Christmas draws near, my church is spending four Sundays looking at Songs for the Savior, the four songs Luke records in the opening chapters of his account of the life of Jesus. This past Sunday we looked to Mary’s song and saw it as an opportunity to respond to the news of Christ’s incarnation as Mary did: with trust in the good purposes of God and with rejoicing in the character of God as revealed in the miracle of God becoming man.
What stood out to me about Mary’s response to the news that she would give birth to this child is her humility through it all. You might think that being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah would generate pride, but this is not what we see in Mary. Though she immediately understood that people would forevermore regard her as specially blessed, she knew that she was in no way deserving of this honor. It was nothing that she had earned.
…he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed; for his who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
This is not the Mary of Roman Catholicism who was without sin and, in that way, the most suitable mother in all of human history. No, she is a sinful girl who stands in desperate need of the very Savior she is carrying. She is humbled at the honor that is hers because she has a realistic assessment of who she is.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
Do you see what she does here? She compares herself to people who have great intellectual gifts, who have great power and authority, and who have great wealth, and she realizes that she is just a young girl from a small and unimportant town in an out-of-the-way province. As one author has said, she is a nobody from a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.
Of all I love about God–and there is a lot I could list!–this is very near the top, that he chooses such unlikely people to benefit from his gifts and his grace. He lifts up those who know they are unworthy and brings down those who consider themselves most worthy. He passes over so many of the brilliant and rich and powerful, and instead bestows his grace on the lost and the least.
Looking at Mary’s song, and considering her expressions of humble wonder, I think there are at least two ways that the incarnation is meant to humble me.
The incarnation is meant to humble me because it tells me that I have a desperate need for a Savior. I need this God-man to be born into the world in order to save me from the condemnation I’ve called down upon myself. I cannot save myself! Left to myself I am so lost and hopeless that without help coming from outside myself, I face an eternity apart from all of the grace of God. The incarnation humbles me by highlighting the reality of my natural condition.
The incarnation is also meant to humble me as I reflect on the reality that I–I of all people–am a beneficiary of all the grace that entered the world with and through Jesus Christ. Because of him I have received the thing I needed most but deserved the least. Like every Christian, I can attest to the wonder of looking at all the grace and love and forgiveness that is mine and marveling that this has been given to me. To me! It is humbling to know what I have been saved from, and it is humbling to know what I have been saved to.