The Wonder of Christmas – Philippians 2:5-11

Written by Dave Urbanski

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It’s so cool that the verses we studied on Sunday from Philippians 2 get right to the heart of a subject that’s central to our lives — and coming up on the calendar: The Wonder of Christmas!

Pastor Scott began by repeating verse 5, which we looked at last week: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus …” The reason is because this verse sets up the rest of the passage, verses 6 through 11: “… who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This passage gets to the crux of the wonder of Christmas because it describes not only who Jesus is but also the plan for how he burst upon humanity — and he did so in utter humility, born where donkeys, lambs, and cattle took shelter. Of course, most folks know that part of the Christmas story — but the amazing theology within that story isn’t primary in the hearts of most people. But Pastor Scott broke it down for us.

First we saw that Jesus remained “in the form of God” when he came to earth. He kept his divine essence, from his conception through the Holy Spirit all the way to his birth and then throughout his life. He was still 100 percent God and remains 100 percent God to this day. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,” Jesus said in John 8:58, describing his existence from the beginning of time.

However, in coming to earth Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men …” This was the beginning of his sacrificial legacy. Remaining 100 percent God — but taking on complete humanity (100 percent man). Jesus experienced the full range of humanity. He got tired and hungry and thirsty. He got angry. He became sad. He faced temptation. And as an infant born in Bethlehem, he did what infants do: He cried. The act of taking on humanity and emptying himself (“kenosis” in the Greek) means that Jesus freely gave up the privileges associated with divinity, particularly the glory of God. And that was manifested by the literal circumstances surrounding his birth: Mary and Joseph hunted down by King Herod who would have no other monarchs around him and ended up killing countless infants Jesus’ age; the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy, even though God — not Joseph — brought it about; nowhere for the couple to stay amid their lengthy journey from Nazareth, forcing them to take refuge amid dirt, hay, smelly troughs, and smellier stables for Jesus’ birth. 

Not a very regal entrance upon the world’s stage for the King of Kings — at least to human eyes. But as usual, the Lord looks deeper, and in his infinite wisdom that turns lives around (and upside-down if necessary), Jesus was born in humility — and lived the rest of his days on this planet stooped down in service to us.

Pastor Scott also emphasized that Jesus gave up his independent authority and took his cues directly from God the Father — by “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (verse 8) While this truth focuses on Jesus’ adult life, it’s part of the obedience that marked him ever since that very first Christmas when God’s grand plan to redeem his creation took flight.

Pastor Scott also offered a keen illustration about the word “redeem” — as in the idea of redeeming a coupon which allows us to get something or receive some kind of benefit, whether it’s a discounted meal or a free cup of coffee. However, he explained that in Jesus’ case, the redemption is curiously different. When we turn in a coupon, we’re involved in the redemption process. But in Jesus’ case, we’re not! While God the Father is the one establishing the Jesus “coupon,” he’s also the one receiving the benefit or “payment.” Literally God pays himself through Jesus’ sacrifice so that God’s holiness is maintained — and in the end, we benefit if we believe in Jesus and his sacrifice for us.

That’s such a humbling illustration for us to take in — we humans who always want to view ourselves as having earned the right to do or be this or that. We humans who hunger for being worthy. We humans who find it hard to not take credit. Therefore, we need to put away any images of us “turning in a Jesus coupon” as a way of entering heaven as if we could even “grasp” such a thing in our hands. Even that act is out of our reach. It’s already been done. We play no part in the transaction. The Lord did it all. And our part is simply acknowledging that truth, confessing and repenting, and accepting his forgiveness.
I loved Pastor Scott breaking down the idea expressed in the chapter’s last verses — that the only way to true greatness is Jesus’ way: Through humility. But that’s not the world’s message, is it? No way. Especially for those of us on social media, we see folks posting things over and over to “dunk” on others to make them feel bad, insignificant, less-than, and defeated. The sad notion that you have to go out each day and knock people down to gain “cred” and fame. 
Jesus’ way is far different — and stands in stark contrast to the world’s way. Because Jesus was humble on earth, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” It’s the same for us, too: We need to let the Lord be the one to bestow greatness upon us; and we should not be pursuing greatness for ourselves.

In the cosmic mystery of Christmas, God let us see how small we really are compared to how big the Lord really is by giving us Jesus to believe in and emulate. Therefore, as we celebrate the wonder of Christmas, let us — as verse 5 commands — have this as our “mindset” and be sure that at his name we bow our knees and with our mouths confess that Jesus is Lord so that God the Father rightly will receive the glory he so richly deserves.
That’s the wonder of Christmas.

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