The first Christmas was not only a time of great hardship, but also of great humiliation.
There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid.
I'm here to announce a great and joyful event
that is meant for everybody, worldwide:
A Savior has just been born in David's town,
a Savior who is Messiah and Master.
This is what you're to look for:
a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women
on earth who please him.
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!
Luke 2v8-20 (The Message)
To have your first guest be scoundrely, stinky sheepherders was a great humiliation. The first guests should have been family members, friends, neighbors. Sheepherders were despised, mistrusted, and the dregs of society. It was no honor to have them shouting praises and proclaiming the news around town.
To be born in a setting where you are required to lay your newborn baby in a manger is a humiliating setting. Instead of giving birth in a warm home surrounded by attentive midwives, Mary must trust Joseph to deliver the baby, and together they must both clean up the mess, care for the newborn, and recover from the exhaustion, alone. A very humbling situation.
To be rejected by family for being "sinners", to be in hiding from Herod - being descendants of the daring King David, to be far from home because of the will of the Caesar, this is all a very humiliating set of circumstances.
Interestingly for many of us, we too have our own stories of humiliation. We have our secrets, that if found out, would be very humiliating. We have current life circumstances that are humbling, and we resent them. We've humiliated others, we've maybe snickered at the humiliation of others, and maybe we've looked the other way when we come across the humbled. Instead of letting humiliation bring out the best in us, we let it make us shamed and angry.
This Christmas, maybe the best gift you can give is yourself - a you that lets God use our own humiliation for something really good. Maybe we need to forgive those who have humiliated us, maybe we need to repent of the humiliation we've caused others. Maybe we need to let go of our shame, our fear of being discovered.
God in Jesus faced great humiliation at Christmas, as was just pointed out. He grew up in humbling circumstances, Nazareth was not an honorable place to grow up. Jesus ministered to the humiliated: tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes and cripples. Jesus died a terribly humiliating death upon the cross, everything about his trial, torture and abandonment was a great humiliation. Yet God raised him from the dead, and used all that humiliation to bless and rescue and reconcile and restore.
God can take your humiliation and bring good out of it, if you will let him. Surrender your secrets to him. Tell a trusted friend your secret, don't keep it to yourself, let it out and be free. Repent of your shamefull deeds, and then move forward to make right what was wronged. Forgive those who humbled you, and be free, and move forward to be used by God to bless and rescue and reconcile and restore.
That is the true meaning of Christmas.