I grew up in a Christian tradition that didn’t celebrate Christmas. My family certainly celebrated, but the church—as a body—generally did not. It viewed Christmas as a purely secular holiday, with pagan roots in winter solstice celebrations. Open presents, sure. Put up a tree, fine. But celebrate the Advent? No thank you. In fact, we’d sing “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” in July, just to show that those hymns didn’t belong to December.
As a result, I didn’t truly experience Advent until law school, when I belonged to a Christian fellowship that brought together believers from virtually every branch of the faith. But there was a blessing to my late arrival in the mainstream of Christian tradition—it gave me an opportunity to think through Advent as an adult, rather than breeze past it as an inherited habit of my childhood. And when I truly meditated on Christ’s birth, it humbled me, and it humbles me still.
There’s the obvious reason for humility. Christmas presents us with a staggering notion. As the Apostle Paul states in the book of Philippians, Christ, “existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.”
We spend our lives building our names, our reputations, and (often) our self-regard. The God we serve did the opposite. He “emptied himself.” It’s no wonder that Paul thus admonishes Christians that we should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”