Not a palace, but a stable. Not a cushioned crib, but a feeding trough for animals (a manger). Not in a rich powerful city, but in lowly Bethlehem. Not to rich, powerful, royal, and influential parents, but to a simple carpenter and lowly maiden. Not with great fanfare, pomp, and circumstance, but while the world slept unaware—the only announcement made by the angels to shepherds in the fields. This is how the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity made His entrance into our flesh in order to bear our sins and be our Savior. It is nothing short of amazing! Hearing the remarkable details of our Lord’s birth never gets old, which is why the Church continues to sing, “Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth” (“Savior of the Nations, Come” - LSB 332, st. 1).
Marvel, indeed! God is born a baby! The Eternal Word of the Father, the very Creator of all things, the One who spoke creation into existence, descends from heaven to be born into His creation. In Mary’s arms, nursing from her breasts, is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. He humbles Himself to assume our human flesh and become dependent upon the milk of His mother and the care of his earthly father, even while He continues to hold the entire universe in His tiny little hands. If this does not cause you to marvel, nothing will!
The Divine Humility of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, is truly a marvelous thing to behold. The holy angels are taken aback by it and long to delve into what they perceive to be the mystery of mysteries. They have seen the One who lies seemingly helpless in a manger in all His glory. They know Who this Baby named Jesus really is, and it amazes them to see Him in this manner. Not only that, but they know the reason God takes on human flesh and is born into this dead and dying world, namely to save sinful humanity, and they cannot help but sing His praises. As they gaze upon Almighty God, their Lord and Master, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a dirty, feeding trough, they marvel not only at His Divine Humility, but at His Divine Love for sinful mankind, for it is that Divine Love which moved Him to subject Himself to such humility.
The Divine Humility and Love we see on display in Bethlehem on that Holy Night long ago continued to be exemplified in our Lord Jesus throughout His salvific pilgrimage to our sinful world. He did not come seeking honor and fame, but to serve and love God and neighbor completely and perfectly in our place. He did not come to conquer the world and establish a mighty earthly empire, but to do battle with, and defeat, sin, death, and the devil on our behalf. He did not come to be served, but to serve. The One who chose to be born in such low estate lived in poverty throughout His time here, relying upon His Father to provide for His every need. He had no place to lay His head. He had no accumulation of material possessions. There was nothing about His appearance that would draw people to Him. In short, the Divine Humility we witness at His birth continued throughout His earthly life.
Of course, the ultimate picture of our Lord’s Divine Humility and Love is seen in Jerusalem thirty-some years after His ignoble birth. We see it when He washes the feet of His disciples. We see it when He sweats blood while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, submitting to His Father’s will. We see it when He submits to being arrested. We see it when He is spit upon, beaten, mocked, and severely flogged. We see it in His silence before Caiaphas and Pilate. We see it when He carries His own cross to Golgotha outside the city gates. We see it when He allows Simon of Cyrene to assist Him in carrying His cross. We see it when the nails are driven through His hands and feet. We see it when He hangs on that cruel instrument of torture, gasping for air. We hear it in the Words He utters from the cross, and we see it when He takes His last breath and dies.
And it’s all amazing; it’s all something to most definitely marvel over, for this is God Himself, Incarnate in human flesh, Who is born in such low estate, lives in such poverty, and dies such a heinous death. It becomes all the more amazing (if it’s possible to ponder anything more amazing than God living and dying as a Man) when we consider that He did it all for us—for you, for me. He humbled Himself and assumed human flesh to live as your substitute; to hunger and thirst as you hunger and thirst; to be tempted as you are tempted; to experience pain and suffering as you experience pain and suffering; to be mocked and suffer injustice as you are mocked and suffer injustice; to even suffer death as you suffer death. All of it because He loves you with a Divine Love beyond our human comprehension. All of it to rescue you from the eternity you deserve because of your sins. All of it to win for you forgiveness, life, and salvation. All of it because He desires that you spend eternity with Him in perfect peace, comfort, and joy.
Dearly beloved, as we make our way to Bethlehem to celebrate our Savior’s birth, let us take our cue from the holy angels and ponder the mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation. Let us follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and treasure this mystery in our hearts, pondering with great wonder and joy the reason our God humbled Himself to be born into this sinful world in our human flesh. He came to live and die for you, dear friends, each and every one of you. In Divine Humility and Love, He came to save you by living the life you fail to live and by dying the death you deserve to die for your sins. This is the true “reason for the season,” the true meaning of Christmas.
But, let us not stop at pondering and treasuring up in our hearts this great mystery, as if this was all just some bygone story to be cherished, remembered, and passed on to others. This is no legend or fairy tale or epic saga to warm our hearts and lift our spirits as we roast chestnuts around the fire. This is no “Hallmark Special” to talk about as we sip our eggnog and open presents. Our Lord lives! His Divine Humility and Love is still on full display and still as active today as it was two millennia ago, for the same God who assumed human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, the same God who lived to serve and love God and neighbor, the same God who allowed Himself to be treated shamefully and put to death, continues to come to us in Divine Humility and Love as we gather in His Name for Divine Service. It should not surprise us that He makes no flashy appearance in our midst, but instead comes among us humbly and hiddenly, wrapped in the swaddling cloths of His Holy Word and Sacraments. That’s His way. And He comes to us in Divine Humility and Love to deliver the forgiveness, life, and salvation He accomplished for us. This, too, is the meaning of Christmas.
“Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.” Yes, marvel away at that! But, marvel, too, that our Lord chooses to continue to meet us in His Church in Divine Humility and Love to deliver to us His Divine Gifts. Marvel and come, at His gracious invitation, to receive His Gifts and to be filled with His Divine Humility and Love!
A Holy, Blessed, and Merry Christmas to you all!