Consider the following somewhat theoretical discussion. In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus declared, “…he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Reflecting on the entirety of Holy Writ, one can conclude this to be an axiom of God’s kingdom. It is repeated in similar wording in verses such as 1 Peter 5:6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” And again from the mouth of our Lord in Luke 18:14b: “…the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This axiom is apparently foundational behavior even for God! Strange as it may sound, our God, the Triune God who is the Lord of heaven and earth “naturally” humbles Himself. This condescension, we believe, is axiomatic concerning His relationship to His creation—even outside man’s fall into sin. Psalm 113:5,6 nicely summarizes this reality: “Who is like the LORD our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in heaven and in the earth?” (NASB). Yes, to behold the lofty fabric of the heavens, their Creator must stoop and humble himself. Thus also the Lord of the universe humbled himself to behold the things in the earth, personally forming the various animals and uniquely humbling himself to “form,” “breathe into” and “build” the first man and woman. Such humbling is a loving condescension, making Himself approachable, appearing to be something less than infinite. Personally encountering this humbled God, sinless man would have exalted Him by glorifying Him in word and deed. Some conjecture that God would have become a man even if humanity had not sinned! And after the original sin, God—apparently in human form—humbled himself to “walk in the garden in the cool of the day,” which one could recognize as His “normal” humble behavior.
Because God thus humbles Himself, It should come as no surprise that God would actually become a man! Though becoming man is in itself not equal to entering the State of Humiliation, yet, we believe, simply becoming man would have been an act of humbling Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth. But the Son of God did not just become man. By becoming man the Son of God could and did—for our salvation—enter the State of Humiliation, thus enabling Him as a man to cease fully using His divine powers. In this State of Humiliation Christ could really suffer and die in our place. St. Paul thus wrote to the Philippians (2:6,8): “[Christ,] Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,…And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” Recall now the axiom: “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” For us the Lord Jesus as a man humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. For us He would then begin His State of Exaltation by being exalted in His resurrection. Thus to the baptized—those connected to Him—He gives the gifts of salvation accomplished by His being humbled and then exalted.
Relate all of this now to worship. Are not acts of humiliation and exaltation foundational acts of worship—on God’s part and on our part? Does not God in worship still come to us in humility—through the mouth of a sinful pastor and through the humble water, bread and wine— that we may “exalt Him” by glorifying Him in our Pneumatic petitions, offerings and praises? And concerning our own humiliation and exaltation in worship, do we not gather in humility—with contrite hearts—that God the Spirit may exalt us by forgiving and strengthening our faith in Jesus through Word and Sacrament? Indeed, he who humbles himself will be exalted.