Settle yourself into prayer and get ready to reflect on the Word of
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name
that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee
should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ
is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When I lived in Dallas I looked forward every year to a local department store’s Christmas catalog. Each Christmas the store flaunted some over-thetop, extravagant gifts. First published in 1926, the catalogue featured that year’s dream gifts such as a walk-on role in a Broadway musical ($30,000), a private quarterback camp with Joe Montana ($65,000), an exclusive Grammy Awards experience ($500,000), and a Cobalt Valkyrie-X private plane in rose gold ($1.5 million).
But talk about extravagant giving! It’s what happened the first Christmas! God so loved the world that He gave His Son that we might forever share God’s life and glory. God made Himself poor, the Bible says, so that we might have real riches (2 Corinthians 8:9). God made Himself weak to give us strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). He took on our sin so that we might have His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Extravagant? Out of this world? Unquestionably! But not a dream, a reality for us all!
As early Christians celebrated the Feast of Christmas they groped for a process to comprehend and also for words to communicate the wonder of what God has given. They spoke often of the “wondrous exchange” (admirabile commercium) between divinity and humanity transacted at Christmas. Irenaeus was influential in the formation of early Christian thought; he proclaimed the “wondrous exchange” of God thusly: “In his immeasurable love, he became what we are in order to make us what he is.” (Against Heresies) On Christmas morning in A. D. 414, Augustine preached this “wondrous exchange” in which there could be “no greater grace than what has now shone upon us from God: the only Son of God has become the Son of Man, making sons and daughters of men, sons and daughters of God.” (Augustine’s Sermons, Sermon 185.3)
Centuries later John Calvin took up the “wondrous exchange,” saying:
This is the wonderful exchange… that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV)
We do not understand Christmas if we do not understand that God came down to lift us to His life and glory. Having humbled Himself, God exalted Jesus to the highest place. But in His exalting Jesus, God also exalted all who trust in him:
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6, emphasis added).
Let us not miss this! God who is rich in mercy and love “raised us up with him [Christ] and seated us with him [Christ] in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Even as Christ is exalted to the heaven’s highest place, He is exalted on our behalf!
Karl Barth pointed out that the humble Christ is exalted for our blessing: “then obviously this exaltation of His is not only His, but also that of those for whom He humbled Himself.” (Church Dogmatics IV/2) Such is the humble God’s selfless love for you and me! The Son of God took on our human attributes so that we can take on His divine attributes of humility, compassion, mercy and love. This is the “wondrous exchange”! What an extravagant, incomparable gift!
- Theologians talk about the “wondrous exchange” taking place at Christmas. What did Jesus get in that exchange? What did you get in the exchange?
- How is Christ’s exaltation also our exaltation?
“Let us seek to be like Christ, because Christ also became like us:
to become gods through him since he himself,
through us, became a man. He took the worst upon
himself to make us a gift of the best”
Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes 1, 5