Theophany: The Feast of Humility

Theophany is the feast of God’s humility.  Humility is not something normally associated with power.  Powerful people and rich people and important people aren’t usually humble, because they don’t have to be.  It is the poor and powerless who have to be humble.  The powerful can dictate, and rage, and give orders, not caring whether or not they are liked, for they are answerable to few or none.  The poor man, the one who works for a boss at minimum wage and needs every penny and dare not lose his job, must keep a civil tongue in his head.  If the boss yells at him unjustly, he can only smile and make entreaties.  It is as Solomon says, “The poor man uses entreaties; the rich answer roughly” (Proverbs 18:23).  This makes our human situation all the stranger:  on this planet, it is sinners and mortal men who are proud, who live with swollen wills, and who rage when that will is crossed.  It is God, the Mighty One, who is humble.

We see this divine humility throughout the entire life of Christ.  In the way that He entered this life and in the way that He left it, He manifested the divine humility and showed where true glory lay hidden.  Though He was the Mighty King, worshipped by angels and archangels and by all the vast company of heaven, He entered His world as a child born not to a princess, but to a simple peasant girl of Galilee.  His legal father and guardian was not a king or even a servant of kings, but a carpenter, an artisan who had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow.  His parents were of such modest means that when the time came for His mother to offer the sacrifice in the Temple for her purification, she offered not the usual sacrifice of a lamb and a pigeon, but the sacrifice of the poor, two pigeons (Leviticus 12:6-8, Luke 2:24).  At the time of His birth, earth had no place for Him, so that He was born in a cavern, and laid in a manger—i.e. a feeding trough for animals.  (Calling it a “manger” sounds so much more romantic.)  It was the same when He left this world, for not only did He die the shameful death of a slave by being crucified, and numbered with criminals, He did not even have a tomb of His own to be buried in.  Rather, He had to borrow the tomb of another.  Evidently there were no depths of humility and humiliation to which God was not ready to sink for our sakes.

The center-piece of this divine humility is our feast of Theophany.  Christ was baptized to set His seal upon the controversial ministry of John.  There were only two views regarding John—some considered him a true prophet, sent by God after the silence of centuries, while others considered him a crack-pot, propelled not by God’s Spirit but by his own demented ego.  Those who considered John to be a true prophet came to be baptized, and so Jesus came to join them, setting His seal on John’s work.  He came to the waters of baptism in solidarity with sinners, surrounded by tax-collectors and former prostitutes and others whose consciences smote them and filled their hearts with shame.  Even as He would later hang on the Cross among thieves, so He waded into the water among sinners, for the steps leading down to the Jordan were the first steps on the long road to Golgotha.  As He once laid aside the form of God to take on the form of a slave (Philippians 2:6-7), so now once again He laid aside His clothes to enter the cold waters of this life and stood in the Jordan River before an amazed John.

This divine humility sets the pattern for our life as well.  If our God has shown such humility, we must ourselves lay aside the vestments of pride and walk more lightly upon the earth.  Too often we strut, stepping heavily as if we were kings.  When our will is thwarted, we rage as if we were the center of the universe—even if the thwarting of our will consisted of nothing more than too much traffic in the road in front of us.  If Christ our God, the high king of heaven, lived such a life of shining humility on earth, we must follow after Him.  When our will is thwarted, let us not rage, but quietly intone the prayer, “Teach me to treat whatever may happen to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all”.  This is true humility, and this is our true glory.  For the feast of Theophany reveals the glory of God walking among men, and the only path to peace.