Settle yourself into prayer and get ready to reflect on the Word of
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy
complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord
and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you
look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same
mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form
of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human
likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
How do you explain to a child what Christmas is about? Or, where do you find words to describe the infinite love of God overflowing eternity into time? What concepts do you have for grasping it? What images could you use? The wise Thomas Aquinas said that God is mysteriously “above all things by the excellence of His nature…and in all things as the cause of the being of all things.” (Summa Theologiae)
How then do we conceptualize or even imagine what it means for the self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal God to cast His lot with us mortals at Christmas? The poet John Donne tried, describing it as “Immensity cloistered” in a Virgin’s womb. Christina Rossetti similarly marveled that God came down into “the world his hands had made/Born a stranger.” In our own generation Max Lucado writes in astonishment about Christmas: “The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo… The creator of life being created.” (Max Lucado, It Began in a Manger)
It is the unspeakable wonder of Christmas that Francis of Assisi wanted to somehow tell. He longed to help others enter into the ineffable mystery of Christ, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Francis had made a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he saw a humble, limestone cave in which the Son of God might have been born. He returned home overcome by the humility of God joining Himself to our frail, fallen humanity. Francis wanted to communicate this humility to others. So in 1223, in a simple cave outside the Italian town of Greccio, Francis set up the world’s first Christmas crèche. He placed in the cave a wax figure of the Baby Jesus, along with a peasant woman and man dressed like Mary and Joseph, and a few barnyard animals.
Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano, recounts how in that simple manger scene Francis wanted “…to vividly evoke the memory of the heavenly Child who had been born in Bethlehem, and to bring to the attention of the people and to my heart the discomfort of his needs as a baby, seeing him lying on a bit of hay, reclining in a manger warmed by the breath of an ox and a mule.” (Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis)
It is the incomprehensible humility of God that the apostle Paul wants to communicate in today’s scripture. Rather than using figurines, Paul uses words. While the four gospels tell us Jesus’ words and works, Paul reveals here the mindset of Jesus, His humble way of looking at life and the world. It was the mind that was in Christ Jesus that led Him from the humble cradle to the cross.
What Paul does next is critical as he links lofty theology with the practical: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” The practical application is that we are to put on the same mindset, the same self-understanding that Jesus had. Or, to the point, we are to think like Jesus thinks and act like Jesus acts in our dealings with others.
The words come easily enough, but to have the mind of Christ will mean humility, compassion, service, and self-forgetfulness. The words that describe Christ are to describe all those who are “in Christ”. Christ came not only to redeem us through His death, but also to show us how to live humbly.
Notably, the word “humble” and “human” come from the same Latin word, humus, meaning dust or ground. It’s the humus stuff you have in your garden. Symbolically the “humble” person is the truly “human” person who lives low to the ground. He lives “grounded”, knowing his place in God’s purpose. He knows he came from dust and to dust he will return (Genesis 3:19).
Paul writes from a prison, living grounded in God’s purposes and ready to follow wherever the mind of Christ leads. He urges readers then and now 12 to put on the humble, self-sacrificial mind that was in Christ Jesus. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
- In today’s scripture how is the apostle Paul calling for readers to deal with divisions, rivalry, and selfish ambition among them?
- People talk a lot about the “Christmas spirit”. In light of today’s scripture, how would you describe the Christmas spirit?
- Take a few moments to ask the Holy Spirit to help you rethink your life in light of the mind of Christ.
“What if you understood that you were so rooted in the love of a God who at unimaginable risk put his life into our hands so that we could live? What would it be like to have such confidence in the love of God that you actually felt able to take risks, to put your life in the hands of others so that they could live?”
Rowan Williams, “Sermon at Hereford Diocesan Conference”, June 5, 2008