Christmas Humility: 5 Lessons From the Nativity

User’s Guide to the Nativity of the Lord

O come, let us adore him ...
O come, let us adore him ... (photo: Fellers Photography / Shutterstock)

Sunday, Dec. 25, is the Nativity of the Lord. Mass readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25 or Matthew 1:18-25.

The Newborn Christ is not found where we expect him to be, nor does his birth conform to any script we would design. Right from the start, he gives us many lessons in humility and begins his saving work of healing our wound of pride. Let’s look at these lessons in four stages.

The first lesson in humility is our surprise and even indignation at the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. God, however, is neither surprised nor stymied. All this fits into his plan to get Jesus, Mary, Joseph — and all of us — to the place of blessing. Whatever evil the emperor intends in forcing thousands to move about to register for a census, God intends it for good (see Genesis 50:20). The Messiah, it was prophesied, would be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23), be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and die in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). God is setting things in place for the blessing.

The second lesson in humility is that God must get us to certain places in order to bless us. And they may be strange places, ones we would not choose. Getting us there may involve hardship for us: disappointment that our own plans have not come through and the painful loss of places, things and people we love. Yes, God has blessings waiting for us in strange places. For Joseph and Mary, the procession to the place called Bethlehem involved hardship. But this procession is necessary for them — and for us. 

Bethlehem was where the blessing would be found — there and no other place. And the same is true for us in so many ways. 

The third lesson in humility: The Lord teaches us from the start that blessings are often found in unusual ways and under unexpected circumstances. The greatest blessing ever bestowed is found in a lowly manger behind an inn, resting in a feeding trough — in the least expected place. 

The fourth lesson in humility throws into question our overemphasis on politics and worldly power. Salvation is not to be found in the statehouse, the courthouse or the White House. Our Lord and Savior, this God of Armies with plenary authority, is not in some palace. He is lying in a lowly feed box, attended by animals. 

The fifth lesson in humility: Glorious though the angel’s praises, there is a perfect praise that only we can give to God. It was beautifully expressed by the poet Christina Rossetti:

Angels and Archangels may have gathered there. 

Cherubim and Seraphim thronged the air. 

But only his mother in her maiden bliss 

could worship the beloved with a kiss