“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although He existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
– Philippians 2:5-11
Some people scoff at the idea of celebrating Christmas because of the pagan/materialistic elements that have crept in. But, just as I believe in sanctifying Halloween, I firmly believe that Christmas can be a holy (set-apart) time. Though the world seeks to pull us further under its influence (via materialism, consumerism, and worry about the ‘war on Christmas’), we can instead use this time to draw us deeper into God’s presence. Christmas (and the season of Advent which precedes it) is a perfect time to reflect on Christ’s coming and his humanity. It’s a side of Jesus to which we often give short shrift.
I’ve been reading Ben-Hur. For those that might not be familiar with the novel (or the better known movie starring Charlton Heston), it’s the story of a young Jewish man, born around the same time as Jesus, whose life is upended when his ‘friend’ has him framed for an attempted assassination and sent to be a galley slave. Ben-Hur, an apparently poor judge of character when it comes to choosing friends, eventually gets his freedom and returns to take vengeance and save his mother and sister who were thrown in a dungeon the day he was enslaved. However, on his journey, he hears about Christ, meets him several times, and eventually embraces him as the true, long-awaited Messiah. As I’ve gotten lost in the story, I’ve seen Jesus through the eyes of young Ben-Hur; not just as the Word made flesh or the Son of God but as a real, living, flesh-and-blood human being who lived much of his life like so many of his contemporaries. He grew up in a small town, went to synagogue, worked, enjoyed the company of others, ate, slept, and was ” tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
Think about that for a moment. God became a man. The Almighty Creator of the universe and all therein “emptied himself” and took the “form of a bond-servant.” Jesus was fully human. It’s easy to forget that. We read the Gospels and we stand in awe as we watch him turn water into wine, heal unhealable diseases (including death itself), cast out demons, and feed five thousand men with a fish sandwich. His divinity is overwhelming.
And yet, he was a man. A man who grew up with a normal mother and father. A man who had siblings and friends. A man who knew loss and the pain of rejection. A man who received love and hate. A man who walked and talked and laughed and cried and experienced the full spectrum of human emotion.
So what’s the big deal? Why does it matter that Christ was fully human?
When Paul writes to the Philippians, he encourages them to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Then, he goes on to describe how low Jesus descended when he became a man. Though God, he “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Did you read that? He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” In other words, though he could’ve taken advantage of his ‘God-hood’ while walking the earth, he didn’t. When Satan tempted him, he resisted. And you can be assured that every time he was tempted to do something for his ‘own’ glory, he denied himself even though he was God. Why? Because the Father was to receive all of the glory. In John 5 (and really throughout much of John’s Gospel), Jesus makes the statement, “My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” It’s all about the Father.
God emptied himself, became a human being, and pointed us toward Himself. And in so doing, he showed us what a human life lived to the glory of God looks like.
The characteristic that comes up repeatedly in Philippians 2:5-11 is humility. It took a lot of humility for the Creator to become a Creature. Yet, how often do we resist humbling ourselves a far shorter distance? We demand our way and when we don’t get it, we give up (on our marriage or our church or our job or our friendship). We are asked for forgiveness but we hold the grudge tighter. We deny ourselves ministry opportunities because it seems ‘beneath us.’ God becoming man was beneath him. And yet, he “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The one who is Life itself, gave himself up to death. That was beneath him. Can we really call anything we experience in this life, ‘beneath us’?
Right before this passage of scripture, Paul instructed his readers to “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” What would happen if every Christian followed that instruction? How would the Church of God look if every member did “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,” but instead regarded “one another as more important”? The petty bickering would cease. The offering plate would overflow. The worship services would be pleasing and acceptable to God (and we’d enter every service seeking God rather than satisfaction for the flesh). The ministry would flourish. Love would characterize God’s people and the world would notice. Sure, we would still have disagreements (see Acts 15:36-41) but we wouldn’t lose fellowship because of them (see Colossians 4:10-11). Ultimately, we’d look a lot more like Jesus.
As you prepare for Christmas, take some time to reflect on the miracle of the incarnation. Our Great God humbled himself utterly. Are you willing to do the same?