The Humility of Christ: Two Icons

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. -Luke 2:7

The definition of humility in Wikipedia opens with this line:     “Humility (adjectival form: humble) is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering one self in relation to others…”

Let us ponder the humility of God the Son, who became flesh of the Virgin. As He was born in a cave and laid in a manger, His incarnation is an act of lowering. One of the hymns of Nativity illustrates this beautifully:

imageToday, He who holds the whole creation in His hand
is born of a virgin.
He whose essence none can touch
is bound in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man.
God who in the beginning fashioned the heavens
lies in a manger.
He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness
is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.
The Bridegroom of the Church summons the wise men.
The Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts.
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ!
Show us also Thy glorious Theophany!

What a lovely icon this hymn is! But this is just the beginning of His lowering. Christ not only descends from on high to become a man, but completes His life in total humility – the humility of the Cross. The hymn from Holy Week, which corresponds to our Nativity hymn reads:

imageToday, He who hung the earth upon the waters
Is hung upon the tree.
The King of angels
Is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in a cloud
Is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan
Is slapped in the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church
Is affixed to the cross with nails.
The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ!
Show us also Thy glorious Resurrection!

The Blameless One is hung upon the cross as one deserving of blame. This is the completion of His lowering: total humility even unto death, an undeserved death.

To return to our Wikipedia definition, it continues with a converse perspective on humility: “…having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.”

Let us have a clear perspective of ourselves brothers and sisters. May we be humble in all things, like the Lord, remembering that in His humiliation He was exalted. The Cross is a symbol of triumph now and this is why we also celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross: “for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” –Luke 14:11

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