The Humility of Christ in the Incarnation
The message of Christmas, of the Incarnation of Christ, is a story of great humility. The Incarnation of Christ was the “in-fleshment” of the Son of God, the Eternal Word who took on human flesh.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1-4,14
This act was one of great condescension. That is, an act of stooping down, lowering oneself down to the level of another. The Incarnation demonstrated such an incredible degree of self-lowering that it is rightly called The Condescension. This Condescension was totally unlike the arrogant air of self-superiority that we might normally associate with the term (no one likes being spoken to with a “condescending tone”). Rather, it was an act of utter humility.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8
Though Christ was in the form (nature) of God from all eternity, he took on the form of a servant, the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) – a lowly human nature. Christ humbled himself, condescended, by adding to himself attributes that were beneath (“lower than”) his eternal divine nature.
Incredulity about the Incarnation
This message of the Incarnation, of God in human flesh, is a stumbling block to many. The Muslim and the Jew join forces in ridiculing the idea. “How could the Eternally Blessed and Glorious Creator of All take on the humble nature of a man? It is far beneath him to do such a thing! It would be completely unlike him.”
Yet, let us pause and contemplate the character of God, as he has revealed himself throughout time. We might similarly ask, “How could the Eternal, Transcendent Being, the Creator of time and space itself, so deign to have dealings with men at all?” This question is not new, it was asked millennia ago.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? – Psalm 8:3-4
Although such action seems far beneath him, God has indeed deigned to interact with his creatures.
It is not because of the greatness of man that He does so. Nor is it because of some weakness or finitude in God. Not, it is because it is his peculiar glory to make himself known. So, he does so, just as he always has since the very act of Creation.
The Humility of God in His Self-Revelation
In fact, all of God’s self-revelation is condescension. It always involves God’s voluntary adding to himself, taking on attributes beneath or lower than his transcendent eternal nature.
Though God, is unchanging, Creator of time itself, yet he enters time and speaks, communicates, displays actions and signs in time. He takes on temporality, all though he is, in himself, beyond time.
“I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” – Isaiah 46:9-10
Though God, from all eternity, is impassible, yet he takes on the forms of emotion, of anger, and grief, in his interactions with his people.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. – Genesis 6:5-6
God’s voluntary condescension results in the magnification of his glory through the manifestation of his attributes. He lowers himself so that he may be seen in his glory. He comes close, he comes near, he veils, so that we may see.
“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:20-23
He is too high for us to attain to without his drawing near. He brings himself to us. We cannot bring ourselves up to him.
He is too bright and glorious for us to see without his humble turning-down of the lights.
His speech is too wise, sophisticated, eloquent, beautiful, intelligent, pure for us to understand, unless he “lisps” and deigns to speak in our human vernacular.
God is the one who must act, and does act, if we are to know him.
The Culmination of Self-Revelation
God is a God of humility in self-revelation. The Incarnation is simply the culmination. It is the Revelation; the full making-known.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. – John 1:18
The humility of Christ in the Incarnation is the ultimate display of God’s humility which was already evident in all his interaction with his creatures. The Condescension is the perfect display of the character of God, who is (and has been since Creation) the God Who Condescends.