Settle yourself into prayer and get ready to reflect on the Word of
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.
I love the festivity and rituals of this time of year! I delight in the first whiff of pine at the Christmas tree lot telling me that Christmas is coming. I’m like a child when I see the Christmas lights and decorations going up. My mouth waters in thinking about chocolate fudge, ham, candy canes, tamales, Christmas cookies, and eggnog. I’m looking forward to watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “The Bishop’s Wife”, and hearing “Messiah” performances. Topping it all off will be the Christmas Eve service and hanging out with family and friends.
And yet, I don’t want to so sentimentalize Christmas that I miss out on what the wonderful celebrations are really about. Many of our cards, carols, and stories are a romanticized Christmas without the stable stench, the realities of child bearing, or the gossip and controversy surrounding Jesus’ birth. We will even sing how “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” Whoever wrote that didn’t know babies!
A picture perfect Christmas might make us miss the scandalous mystery of God sneaking through the backdoor of history to upend a world lost without Him. This is heady stuff we’re talking about! For today’s Scripture says that the King of Glory “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” The Greek word doulos, translated here as slave, denotes a person without status, privilege or power. In the Roman world of Paul’s day a doulos was a person without basic human rights and was frequently assigned a number rather than a name. To say that the Son of God became a doulos was a striking expression of the Son of God emptying Himself. The God who created and upholds all things rendered Himself a slave who had nothing. We see that Christ did not merely become human, but He stooped to the lowliest of the low, a doulos.
Remarkably, this is the only place in Paul’s letters where he writes about Jesus as a slave. “Philippi was arguably the most status-conscious municipality east of Rome itself. Nowhere else would the use of slave terminology to describe the deity of a non-elite religious association have so pointedly chafed against the grain of the dominant culture’s social sensibilities.” (Joseph Hellerman, Embracing Shared Ministry) Paul is daring to go against the grain of popular Philippian culture. To talk about a god condescending to become a doulos was repulsive to a Philippian. A god does not empty himself. A god does not sacrifice himself. But as Karl Barth said of God as He is revealed in Christ Jesus: “God is not proud. In His high majesty, He is humble.” (Church Dogmatics, IV/1)
The God of scripture manifests His divinity in making Himself downwardly mobile for us. It is the very nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to give and hold nothing back. “Christ expresses in becoming a human being an essential quality of being God, namely, the giving of himself for the sake of others.” (Stephen Garrett, “The Dazzling Darkness of God’s Triune Love”,Themelios, Vol. 35)
The High King of Heaven makes Himself to be nothing for us. He comes “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He calls even the lowliest among us His brothers and sisters. He welcomes all to Himself because He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
The great Christ Hymn of Philippians shows us that to be Christlike is to serve others. To know Jesus as humble is to know what it means to follow Him. Look at the cradle, look at the cross! That is the Christmas spirit!
- What are some Christmas traditions and rituals that you enjoy?
- Why do you think Paul did not hold back in calling Jesus a “slave” to statusconscious Philippians?
- What are your thoughts and feelings about Karl Barth’s statement: “God is not proud. In His high majesty, He is humble.”?
“For the reconciliation of the estranged world with Himself He,
the Creator, willed to exist also as a creature Himself…This is the depth
to which He willed to descend from His throne, and the height to which
He willed to exalt the creature man to the right hand of His throne.”
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/2