The Lord’s humbleness in His incarnation
Pope Shenouda III | 20 December 2009
Wonderful indeed was the Lord’s humbleness when He emptied Himself and became incarnate.
He descended into this world unnoticed, quietly and stealthily. He set no date for His coming, so no one was there to receive Him, and no preparations were made for His coming, neither on Earth nor in the Heavens. And yet, that unknown day was the greatest in the history of mankind, for it marked the beginning of the salvation that was later completed on the cross.
Had the Lord descended amidst a host of His angels, on a great cloud, or in a luminous chariot surrounded by the Cherubim and the Seraphim; had the heavens shaken or the earth trembled; had all the planets of the universe quivered, not only the one star that appeared to the magi; to celebrate his birth; we would have indeed said, “It is becoming of the Lord and of His glory.”
Upon arrival at a certain destination, one may expect to be received by friends or loved ones, and may even get angry if they fail to do so.
Amazingly, Christ the Lord came to earth calmly, simply, quietly, and without ceremony.
He came in wonderful self-denial or self-emptying. He was received only by some poor shepherds and by the magi.
It is clear that showy people have not been touched by the Lord’s nativity.
Christ’s coming into this world was not the only expression of emptying Himself; all the circumstances of His birth also expressed it.
He was born to a poor orphaned mother, whom the priests betrothed to Joseph, and entrusted to his care.
He was born in a village that was “The least among the princes of Judah” (Matt.2: 6). He dwelt in Nazareth, out of which people found it hard to expect any good, (John 1: 46), and was called a Nazarene.
He lived unknown for thirty years; a period that seems lost to history. Even though those thirty years were primarily the showy years of youth and vigour, they went unnoticed and unobserved, not even the apostles reporting on them.
He emptied himself, growing up in full like any human being.
He was not ashamed to live the weakness of infancy and childhood.
He needed to be helped by others, though He is the helper of all! He needed the care of a parent, though, in that capacity, He cares for everyone! He needed a woman – created by His own hands – to carry Him on her arms, to feed Him, and to tend to all His needs, He who tends to all!
Amazing yet, He emptied himself of His power. He fled from Herod, whom He had created and kept alive until that day, even though Herod’s soul was in His hands! Amazing indeed that the All-powerful and Almighty flees – like all humans – from tribulation, from the threat of death, He who holds the reins of life and death! He fled to Egypt, returning years later, only after the crisis was over. It must have been easy for Him to have escaped death miraculously, or to have destroyed Herod, but He did not do that!
He emptied himself, enduring the weakness of humanity though He is far above weakness. He allowed Himself to suffer hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and to need sleep like any human. Strange indeed that at the end of forty days, He “was hungry” (Matt.4: 2), that the spring that quenches the thirst of everyone, asks the Samaritan woman, “Give Me a drink”(John 4: 7), and says on the cross, “I thirst!”(John 19: 28). “And amazing still, He felt weary and sat by the well” (John 4: 6),“and fell asleep in a boat” (Luke 8: 23)
The Lord so emptied Himself, to put to shame the vain and the proud, as though telling them, “I was not born in a royal palace or on a silk bed, only in a manger. But out of this manger did I make the greatest of thrones. People come, from East and West, for its blessings.”
No place can endow a person with glory; it is the person who lends glory to the place. For real greatness comes from within.
Wherever the Lord came, even if in a manger, and in whichever village He was born, though the least among Judah, became the best of sites or places. However humble His birth, He endowed it with glory. He was born from a poor maiden, but He made her the greatest of women. He was born in the house of a simple carpenter, but He made of him a great saint.
He emptied himself of royalty:
Our Good Master could have came as a king; no one would have denied Him that, for He came from the royal tribe of Judah, the offspring of David the king. But the King of kings (Rev.17: 14) came not as a king.
The Jews, in their vain pride in human greatness, awaited the Messiah as a great king. They believed they would be saved by the greatness of their kings. The Lord meant to purge that concept. He saved them, not through the greatness of kings, but through the humbleness of the Nazarene carpenter, whom they despised, saying, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6: 3).
That humble carpenter, when asked to be king, refused and fled, “When Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he departed again to the mountain by himself alone” (John 6: 15).
He even allowed Himself to be judged by His servants, by Pilate, Herod, and the members of the Sanhedrim. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18: 36). He refused the rod of the king and the honor given to kings, preferring to be surrounded by the love of hearts obedient to His own
Heart, fearing not His authority or power.
He forsook the dignity of leadership:
He sought not to be superior to His followers, but to be their friend. He told His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants.... But I have called you friends” (John 15: 15), addressing them “my friends”(Luke 12: 4).
He so emptied Himself that He bent down and washed the disciples’ feet (John 13: 5).
He never treated others as the servants He had created, nor did He ever play the role of their superior, but attached Himself to them with love .The love of leadership and authority is an attribute of humans only. Our Good Master wanted peoples’ hearts not their fear, and their love not their subjection. He did not set Himself as a leader but as a friend, inspiring neither awe nor terror, only love. He was thus loved, revered, and respected, rather than feared. Children surrounded Him and John the Beloved leant on His breast.
Whoever loves grandeur has not experienced the effectiveness of faith.
St. Anthony once told his disciples, “My children, I do not fear God”, and when they wondered, saying, “That is serious talk, Father! ”, he explained, “It is because I love Him, and ‘love casts out fear’ (1John 4: 18)”
People in this world love authority, power, and domination, forcing others through fear. But Christ our Lord asked us to keep His commandments through love not fear, "Who loves Me keeps My commandments".
He emptied Himself of His power when working miracles.
He did not use His power in working miracles except when necessary. He never used this power for His own convenience or interest, nor did He make use of His divinity to abate His hunger, thirst, fatigue, or pain. He refused to turn stones into bread for Himself, but He blessed the five loaves and two fishes to fill the people, out of compassion. He did not use His miraculous power to dazzle, only to induce faith.
When asked for a miracle, as a sign, He refused, reprimanding those who requested that, saying, "An evil and adulterous generations seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it " (Matt. 12: 39). He did not dazzle people with miracles, as Simon the magician or the damsel possessed with the spirit of divination in Philippi, did. He refused to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, seeking not to dazzle people with His greatness and glory, only to attract them with His humbleness.
He willed not that people witness the miracle of the Transfiguration, which would certainly have mystified them. He willed not even that all of the twelve disciples witness it, allowing only three of them, and commanding them not to tell. He forsook everything showy, and, whenever He did a wonderful miracle, He would hide behind some human weakness, or talk of His suffering to come, or ask those for whom the miracle was done to say nothing of it!
Not even for the sake of propagating faith did He will to dazzle the people with miracles! He wanted them to believe out of love and conviction, not because of the miracles they witnessed. He would ask for the person’s belief before the miracle was done, not after it, "According to your faith let it be to you". It was said of Him, “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt 13: 58). Belief thus preceded the miracle, which always came as a result not as a cause.
The Lord’s miracles were an expression of His love and mercy, and had a spiritual bearing. He wept before raising Lazarus from the dead. The love that filled His heart first found expression in His tears then in His powerful words "Lazarus, come forth". Many of His healings were because He was "moved with compassion", or "had compassion upon.. " .
He never did miracles to defend Himself or taking vengeance on His persecutors or revilers, They poured upon Him insults and reproach, and he could have caused the earth to open its mouth and swallow them, or fire to descend from heaven and eat them up, but He did nothing. He had indeed emptied Himself of His power.
He lived without any title or position:
He held no title, nor had He any official role or position in society. For His people, He was only a person who went about healing and teaching, doing good.
He held no priestly rank, for He was not of the tribe of Levi nor the offspring of Aaron, His mother and Joseph the carpenter being of the tribe of Judah.
He made Himself of no reputation, so that He told the leper when He healed him, “Go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded” (Matt.8: 4). The Great High Priest, the founder of priesthood and the source of all priestly powers, tells the leper "Show yourself to the priest"! O Lord, are You not the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek? Are You not the Shepherd of the shepherds and the Priest of the priests? Why then did You send the leper to the priest? Amazing of You to empty Yourself and behave as if You had no authority at all while You are the source of all authority.
The Lord held no official position or job. Even as a teacher, He was not of the scribes or Pharisees who were entrusted with teaching at the time. He was not of the priests from whose mouths the law was taken, nor was He of the elders or of the distinguished in His community. Yet, His teachings filled the whole world, and He was called ‘Teacher’ by the most distinguished scribes and Pharisees. He showed us that a person can live without any title, yet can work more than anyone with a title!
He had no place from which to teach:
He taught sitting on the mountain, or standing in the boat while the people sat on the shore, or sometimes with his disciples amid the plants of the gardens, the lilies of the fields, and the birds of heaven. At other times, He used to teach in the wilderness or on the way. In short he had no place from which to teach, no place to dwell or to even lay His head (Luke 9: 58). But being attached to no particular place, he worked everywhere.
Is it not amazing that God, who fills the heavens and the earth, had no place to lay His head? On his birth, there was no room at the inn (Luke 2: 7), and during His incarnate life on earth he had no dwelling place, sometimes staying with Mary and Martha, sometimes with Mary the mother of John (called Mark), sometimes in the house of Simon, and sometimes in the garden in Gethsemane. How strange the words, “And every one went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (John 7: 53, 8: 1)
Even those who followed the Lord walked into the unknown, having no place, no position, no account, nor any definite work.
When the Lord asked Matthew “Follow me”, Matthew followed him. Had he asked the Lord “where to?” he would have received no answer. Had he asked, “What to do?” he would also have received no answer. The Lord wanted his disciples to empty themselves, recognising that they were mere disciples. He wanted them to know nothing but to follow him, without any job, any official position, or any stable place.
The Lord was surrounded by the poor:
As the Lord emptied himself and made himself of no reputation, he also loved those who emptied themselves or who had no reputation. He was thus surrounded by the poor, the despised, and those who are not (1Cor. 27: 28). That is why he chose his disciples from among uneducated fishermen, and one of them was a despised tax collector.