Friday, December 30, 2016

The Consequences of Humility - Christmas VI 2016

In all the New Testament, only two gospels, only Matthew and Luke, talk about the birth of Jesus. John and Mark are silent on Jesus' earlier life and none of the letters make reference to the infancy.

If we can call the first chapter of John's gospel a Christmas text, then I think this hymn from Paul might qualify as well:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:5-11]

No baby in a manger or angels singing, but an emptying of self to take on a lower status. It is Christ giving up the form of God and taking on human form. Incarnation. It is a hymn to Christ's humility. Humility, of course, comes from the root humus, which means earth (as in soil, not the planet).

My heroes, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, had a lot to say about humility, how it was what made all other service and love possible. It was a chosen posture that has many paradoxical consequences.

For one thing, humility has to be chosen in order for it to be humility. It's word relative, humiliation, is not humility---which is why we have a different word for it! Lowliness of stature that is not chosen is oppression, not humility. One has to have some level of power to choose humility.

For another thing, the powerful will always see the exercise of humility as a weakness. Or so they'll say. They'll say so even as they crucify, behead, or otherwise assassinate our humble ones.

We are dust and we return to dust. To know this and really own it (I don't yet, a few do) is to create fearlessness in the face of those who exercise power for their own ends, to the detriment of others.

With Mary, the teenage mother, we remember that God chooses those who are lowly. It is a defiant and costly stance. It is an obedience that leads to a cross. We know the cross is not the end of the story, but we also know the cross is real.

To sing Paul's hymn, to let the mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, is to invite trouble. And glory, true, but first trouble, real and bloody.

Humility leads to it, and saves us in it. The consequences of humility are trouble and peace within it.

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