God came down, in order to raise us up.

Amid Christmas caroling, tree trimming and gift giving, Christians keep an eye on the baby away in the manger.

The mystery of the Son of God’s incarnation – the claim that God became flesh and lived as one of us – seems to undermine both the freedom of God and the free will of human beings. But it may actually reveal the one and make possible the other.

New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman claims that much American foreign policy, especially in Muslim lands, fails to understand the deep humiliation people feel in the face of the rich and powerful West. Iraqis resort to violence against Americans, he says, not because they want Saddam back but because they are humiliated that they could not get rid of him without our help. Our continued presence reinforces their sense of national weakness. In the Middle East, Palestinians want the perceived dignity of driving the Jews out of the land themselves, rather than accept a peace treaty brokered by America.

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Friedman quotes a Pakistani friend who claims that what America needs in Iraq and elsewhere is a strategy of “dehumiliation and re-dignification.” The more we empower others, the less humiliated they will feel, and the more capable they will become at governing their own affairs fairly and joining the international community.

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Now, from that quick detour back to the Christmas main road. Christians claim that the all-powerful God, who is incapable of being humiliated by others, chose instead to humiliate himself, taking on the fate of humanity with all its indignities. The Jesus infant reveals a God big enough to stoop to our level, and a God free enough not to be imprisoned by His own freedom.

This humility of God dignifies humanity, since God was not embarrassed to share our humble estate. Furthermore, because God lived among us in this way and did not overpower us against our will, our will is empowered to will and to do what is good.

If my daughter, when she was a child, were climbing on a bookcase that I had warned her not to climb, and it toppled over on top of her, as a strong and loving father I could lift it off her and drag her out from under it, or I could climb under it with her and bear the weight of it until she could get our herself. The first way would humiliate her; the second empower her.

Christmas hints at a God that graces us by joining us and frees us by empowering us.