As I read Thursday's Journal-Star, I did what I normally do during the process of reading the paper and working the crossword puzzle. I read the comic section. Something there caught my eye that I thought would be appropriate for an illustration in today's sermon. I'm not in the habit of quoting from the comics in my sermons, so I beg your indulgence as I do so this morning.
The comic to which I'm referring is entitled "Zits." To give you a bit of background, the key character in the strip is Jeremy Duncan, a 15 year-old boy who's a sophomore in high school. He lives with his parents, Walt and Connie Duncan. The whole strip tends to revolve around young Jeremy's life and his interaction with his parents, teachers, and friends. His life is intended to be that of a typical American teenager growing up in our present day society.
So as Friday's comic strip begins, Jeremy's dad Walt is sitting at the computer and having a conversation with Connie, his wife. The first panel has Walt saying, "Yup, here it is, all right..." The next panel continues the sentence, "Jeremy wasn't kidding." The final panel concludes with Walt saying, "He really did add your picture to the Wikipedia article on 'Humiliation.'" (For those who aren't aware, Wikipedia is an on-line user interactive encyclopaedia.) Then Connie, Jeremy's mother, supposedly addressing Jeremy somewhere else says in a rather disgusted tone of voice: "All I did was put your baby picture in the yearbook!"
In a way, I have a good idea of the way Jeremy felt. When I was in my more formative years, my dad took his share of photographs of me, a lot of which were slides. There are at least several photos of me lying naked on my stomach, with my bare rear end sticking up. And I know there are also photos of me in the bathtub.
I guess having these photos isn't all that bad, except when dad decided to include them in a slide show he was doing at the church. And yes, I was somewhere in my teens at the time. When the slide came up, of course everybody started to laugh; and then they turned and looked directly at me. It was then that I wished the floor would have opened up and just quietly consumed me. I don't think that the word "embarrassed" or "humiliated" can even begin to cover what I was feeling.
I know that I wasn't happy about it. I almost felt like going through dad's slides so I could remove those humiliating photographs of myself and destroy them, so that they wouldn't come back to haunt me again. I didn't do that, and I'm glad that I didn't, but I certainly contemplated doing it back then. Maybe this was dad's bit of pay back for the times I humiliated him when I was a lad, I don't know.
Since I mentioned Wikipedia, I decided to see exactly what they had to say about this word, "humiliation." Here is main part of the definition: "Humiliation (also called stultification) is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It can be brought about through bullying, intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act. Whereas humility can be sought alone as a means to de-emphasise the ego, humiliation must involve other person(s), though not necessarily directly or willingly."
That's a rather detailed definition of the word, but an accurate one nevertheless. However, if you want to get an idea of what it means to be humiliated, just ask any adolescent, and they will probably give you numerous examples.
Think about a boy who shows up at a girl's house for their first date. As he's waiting, her parents decide to entertain him by pulling out the family photo album and show him some old baby and child pictures of the girl he's about to date. Embarrassing baby and child photos probably top the list.
But the list goes on. Having your mother, grandma, or other relative kiss you in public; that's a good one. Or what about having your mother or dad drive you someplace when the rest of your friends were able to drive by themselves? What about being with your parents at the mall, when you run into a group of your friends? What about being yelled at or punished in front of your friends? What about getting up the nerve to ask a girl on a date, or even call her on the telephone, only to get teased about it?
An adult might look at the various situations that children and teens find to be humiliating, and just laugh it off. It certainly doesn't seem that serious to them. But young children and adolescents have a much more delicate image to protect. They're riding a fine line most of the time, and it only takes one false move to go from being popular to becoming a laughingstock. Young Jeremy in that comic strip felt that keen sense of humiliation kick in when his mother decided to post his baby picture in an on-line yearbook. In his mind, his mother had really humiliated him. He thought, "Look up 'humiliation' in the dictionary, and you'll see her picture." And that's exactly what he did.
The reason I've spent the time I have discussing humiliation, is because that's at the forefront of our Epistle reading this morning. The Apostle Paul is instructing the congregation at Philippi about the two states of Christ-his state of humiliation, and his state of exaltation.
This is something that we've discussed before; in fact, if you were to sit through my confirmation classes on the Apostles' Creed, you'd hear about these two states in great detail.
You might not be totally aware of it, but we go through Christ's state of humiliation and his state of exaltation every time we confess the Apostles' Creed together. To elaborate on this, here's what the creed says about his state of humiliation: "He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." That is then followed by an explanation of his state of exaltation: "He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."
A brief definition of "humiliation" in this sense, is to be brought down low. However, nobody humiliated Jesus. Mary and Joseph didn't dig out the baby album and pass the photos amongst his disciples and friends. In verses 7 and 8 of our Epistle today, we read: "...but [Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself..."
Jesus' humiliation is something he did to himself, and that's the hardest concept for us to grasp. According to our human nature, we don't go out looking to be humiliated. We try in every way we can to project a good and positive self-image. Making a good impression is important to us.
Amidst the cheering throng of people and their "Hosannas", and the grand entrance Jesus made into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, there is an overriding theme of humiliation about it all. Jesus was receiving a type of hero's welcome by the people as they spread their cloaks and palm branches on his way.
But as festive as all of this was, Jesus was going forth in a state of utter humiliation. He was not occupying his heavenly throne. He had humiliated himself by coming to this earth on the most grand mission history has ever known. He came into Jerusalem in the most humiliating fashion-sitting on a lowly donkey, the beast of the lowly peasants.
Reading again a couple excerpts from our Epistle: "[Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing....he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" And right along with this we read the words of Hebrews chapter 12 verse 2a: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross..."
This describes Jesus' mission and purpose. He humiliated himself out of nothing more than the love he has for you and me and all people. It was this overly compelling love that led him down that road to Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. He allowed himself to be used and abused and tortured and put to death, humiliating himself, so your sins and mine and the sins of the entire world would be paid for in full.
On that first Palm Sunday, the crowd greeted Jesus with palms and branches and cloaks and shouted "Hosanna," which means "Lord save us!" Many that saw him knew that he was the Saviour that had been promised from the beginning of the world. Many acclaimed their faith in him; but would it endure throughout the events of the coming week? Could people put their faith in a Saviour who was so humiliated that he hung there, bleeding and dying on the cross? Could Jesus, who became the epitome of humiliation and abasement, be God's answer to a sinful world?
Of course we know the answer to this. It had to happen in the way it did. In our Old Testament Lesson from Zechariah, chapter 9 we read in verse 9 the prophecy that had to be fulfilled: "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
And fulfilled it was. Jesus the King of the Jews, the righteous king, the one who would bring salvation to the world, was riding into town in the most humiliating fashion. The donkey was the harsh voice of reality amidst the festivities of the crowd.
Jesus is the object of our faith. In fact, it's difficult to imagine him in an exalted state, but we know that he's in heaven now at the right hand of God. We know that through faith in him, we are saved. When we, as Christ's faithful followers shout "Hosanna, Lord save us," we have the absolute assurance that our faith is indeed well founded. Faith alone is the thing that will save us. Christ humiliated himself and did all the work so we could reap the benefits through nothing but faith alone.
In our world, humiliation is something we will feel, albeit to a far lesser degree than Jesus did. There are those things that have and will happen to us where we feel so humiliated that we wish the ground would open up and we could just disappear.
It seems like children and adolescents have a much keener sense of humiliation-that comic strip about young Jeremy Duncan, and how he felt when his mother posted his baby picture, illustrates this very well.
I can't leave this topic without making another observation. I think that mothers and fathers tend to develop a type of "parental dementia" when it comes to the humiliation their children feel. They forget how their parents embarrassed and humiliated them at that age. And because they forget, they turn right around and do the same things to their own children.
In every stage of our existence, we will suffer some form of humiliation. It's a part of life. We don't know when or how it will happen, but we can be assured that it will indeed happen.
So the next time we experience humiliation of any sort, let this be a reminder of the humiliation of Jesus, and what he had to do in order to save us from our sins. He entered into his state of humiliation of his own desire and free will; in fact, the writer to the Hebrews even calls it "joy;" "...who for the joy set before him endured the cross..." It was his joy to bring salvation to the world, to you and to me, so that we would not suffer humiliation before God, but we would be saved by grace through faith alone in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Hosanna; Lord Jesus, thank you for humiliating yourself to save us, as you lead us to our eternal home in heaven.