“If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
(CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)
The Feast is for Humility.
Christmas is a celebration of God’s humility. And God Himself sets the standard for us by stooping very low to meet us in our place of need. Imagine! The one who knit together every baby becoming a baby himself! The creator of bright galaxies and of black holes, the wielder of lightning bolts and the one who spins worlds like a top, arriving as the humble child to a humble mother, born in the humblest of places – a barn! – in a humble little hamlet, among the humblest of workers – shepherds! – in one of the smallest and least respected people in history. There is hardly any better word to describe Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, than “humble”. With all due respect to Charlotte’s Web, humble Wilbur has nothing on Jesus.
Behold, the humility of God, who put our need for salvation above His need for glory. The feast of Christmas is a celebration of humility that heals, and putting away selfish pride in order to bring peace on earth. The feast is for humility.
Pride is putting yourself before others.
Pride is the first sin, for it is the sin which says “I must be my own God.” Pride insists on being first, on getting recognition, on inserting itself into every conversation. Pride leads us to deceive ourselves into thinking that our ideas are better than anyone else’s, that the way we do things is the right way, and that we should never give an inch of ground to someone who disagrees with us. Pride is the enemy of humility – and we live in a very proud culture. How few people take responsibility for their actions, and instead blame others for the misfortune they have almost always brought on themselves! This is insidious pride, that will admit no wrong, ask no forgiveness, and insist it is always somebody else’s fault. If humble Bethlehem is the birthplace of our righteousness, self-serving pride is, indeed, the birthplace of our every sin.
Humility is putting others before yourself.
In today’s story of taking the lowest seat at a wedding feast, Jesus speaks with full credibility, for he took the lowest seat when he came at Christmas. The parable Jesus gave echoes what is woven throughout the Scriptures: that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Listen to the message of God through the holy scriptures:
Proverbs 25:6 – When you stand before the king, don’t try to impress him and pretend to be important. It is better to be asked to take a higher position than to be told to give your place to someone more important.
Proverbs 29:23 – One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
Ezekiel 21:26 – thus says the Lord GOD: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted.
Matthew 18:4 – Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
James 4:6 – But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4:10 – Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
1 Peter 5:5-6 – Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
These scriptures reveal the great inversion of the Kingdom of God: that in God’s kingdom, the last are first, and the first are last. From Genesis to Revelation we see this as the heart of God: When second-born Isaac receives the blessing instead of first-born Ishmael. When second-born Jacob receives the blessing instead of first-born Esau. When second-to-last born Joseph leads his family instead of first-born Reuben. When Jacob blesses Joseph’s second-born Ephraim instead of first-born Manasseh. When least-of-these David overpowers greatest-of-them-all Goliath. When three humble children defy mighty warlord Nebuchadnezzar only to discover Emmanuel, God with them, in the fiery furnace.
God indeed opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. But humility is not something many of us are born with. It is something we must work to develop.
Humility requires the re-ordering of life’s priorities so that we consider God first, others next, and ourselves last. To put it in Christmasy terms: JOY is spelled Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.
Humility requires being intentional and deliberate; it requires hard work to achieve and even harder work to maintain. In each scripture I read above, notice who has the responsibility to work for humility: we do. We are exhorted by the scriptures to humble ourselves. Peter says we are to “clothe” ourselves with humility. Some of us spend more time picking out what shirt to wear each day than choosing to put Jesus and others before ourselves.
Here are three areas where we can work to develop humility this Christmas.
Humble in Heart
We must do the inside job of humility first. Before we can do humble things, we must be humble people. This means that we must do the hard work of being intentional and deliberate to put away jealousy, envy, and covetousness.
In other words, we must retrain our patterns of thinking. There is no better way to do that than by memorizing scriptures that we can call to mind when we are tempted to put ourselves first. If I could write a prescription for most Christians to help them become more mature disciples, it would be to hide more of God’s word in their hearts. When we constantly meditate on God’s truth, it transforms us like a medicine that reaches into every part of our lives. If you want to learn humility in your heart, memorize, recite, and meditate on God’s word.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (1 Peter 2.1)
Humble in Speech.
Once we have done the intentional and deliberate hard work of cultivating humility in our hearts, it begins to work its way out. And the first place humility should surface is in our speech.
A humble person does not need to brag or boast about themselves. They are satisfied that God knows what they have done and seen, and they don’t need the approval of others. So in a conversation, you will often find that the most humble person is the quietest person. They do not need to self-validate or push to the front of the debate and discussion. If you want to identify the humble person in a conversation, it is the person who is listening more than talking, consoling more than seeking to be consoled, seeking to understand more than to be understood.
Humble speech takes hard work. It takes being intentional and deliberate to speak less and listen more. And when humility does speak, it only speaks words that give life and build others up so that they might know the love and truth of God better.
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4.29, NLT)
Humble in Actions.
As we work to humble our hearts, and become more intentional about consistently choosing humbler words, we will begin to put humility into action by serving others. Again, just as with developing a humble heart and cultivating humble speech, humble actions require hard work and intentionality. It takes discipline to serve others with humility. The movement of random acts of kindness is a wonderful first step in a good direction, but I believe God would prefer that we commit to doing deliberate acts of kindness.
However, we must be careful when we do good deeds that they are not done with the intention of being seen. True humility serves others without seeking the spotlight. The humble Christian serves without fanfare, without press releases, without signs and brochures. They simply love their neighbors because it is the right thing to do, not because they want to be seen. Advanced humility is found when we choose to serve someone – without being seen.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6.1-4 - NLT)
An Important Distinction
Before we finish today, I must share a very wise word and insight that I was reminded of recently by Ed Poole during his and Kathi’s “The Porch” Sunday School class. He quoted Rick Warren, who wrote in his New York Times bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
In other words, being humble does not mean that we disparage ourselves, and thus devalue a wonderful person that God has created and loves. No, being humble is not about putting ourselves down, but about raising others up.
So, this Christmas, Jesus invites you to join him in the ranks of the humble. Why not give up your place in line at the store? Or be the last to go through the food line? Or give up that awesome parking space so that someone else can have it?
Humility can change the world. Jesus thought so. And I believe it is still His prayer for each of us to choose to humble ourselves in heart, in speech and in deed this Christmas.
I’ll close this morning with a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, who started life as a spoiled rich kid, and finished it as a humble man of God:
Prayer of Francis of Assisi
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive-
And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life