Christmas and Condescension

Don't you just hate it when people condescend to you? What if I told you that sometimes, it's okay to be condescending? And that God Himself condescends to us?

Bold statement, right? (Well, technically it's a bold question, the way I phrased it.) The key is found in the original meaning and use of the word "condescend." The base - descend - means "to go down," and the prefix - con - means "with," or "among." So to condescend is to lower yourself to someone else's level. In its original usage, this was a generous and humble thing to do. A master, for example, might condescend by taking an interest in his servant's personal life.

Nowadays, the whole idea of servants and masters is foreign to us. We don't have a strict system of social classes, and with good reason. We should all have equal dignity. One cannot condescend without implying that one is at a higher level than everyone else. Thus, condescension, rather than being an act of humility, has become a conceited or prideful act. To condescend now is to mock - to insinuate that someone else has less dignity.

So where am I going with this? God condescends to us in the original sense of the word. He is infinitely greater than us. But He loves us. He gives us grace. He shows mercy on us. And the Incarnation - God becoming man, which we celebrate at Christmas - is the ultimate act of condescension.

Think of the ways we humans show that we love each other. There's the classic image of a man throwing his coat onto a puddle, so that his wife or girlfriend can cross the puddle without getting her feet wet. Or a mother reaching her hand out to catch her baby's spit-up. At first glance, these actions are demeaning, right? But if you love someone, you're willing to do things that are "beneath" you for the sake of your loved one.

Now multiply that by, well, infinity. God is infinitely above us. But He loves us so much, he lowered himself down to our level to save us. He became one of us. As we prepare for Christmas, let's reflect on just how profound that love is.

For more thoughts on the coming of Christ, check out my Christmas post from last year, which is about the Incarnation being the eucatastrophe - or turning point - human history.


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