[R]ather, [Christ Jesus] made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:7-11

 

In the last couple of days, we’ve been looking at Philippians 2:5-11 as a version of the Christmas story. Though this passage lacks the beloved narrative elements of the birth narratives from the biblical gospels, it does proclaim in verse 7 the fact that Christ Jesus was “made in human likeness,” which is a poetic way of saying that Jesus was God Incarnate, God born in a stable and laid in a manger.

A Christmas tree topper in the shape of the star that guided the magi.Christ’s emptying himself of his divine prerogatives did not stop with the incarnation however. That sacrificial act made possible the even more unsettling and astounding humiliation of the cross. God in Christ humbled himself, not only by becoming human, but also by dying on the cross.

Yet Christ’s humiliation was not the end of the story. We know that God raised Jesus from the dead, thus glorifying him and breaking the bondage of death. Philippians 2 does not mention the resurrection explicitly, though it is surely assumed. Rather, this passage jumps to the exaltation of Christ. Because he humbled himself, even to the point of dying on a cross, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:9-11).

This scene of exaltation does not appear in the Christmas story because it takes place not two millennia ago in Bethlehem but rather somewhere out there in God’s future. However, there are elements of Philippians 2 that remind us of the nativity narratives. Philippians envisions all creatures bowing before Jesus, just as the Magi bowed down in Matthew 2:11. According to Philippians, even creatures in heaven will bow before Christ, which suggests angelic participation, reminiscent of the angelic visitors in Luke 2. You’ll recall that these angels said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Though the angels had come to celebrate the birth of Jesus, God received the glory. Similarly, when all creation bows before Christ and confesses him as Lord, this happens “to the glory of God the Father,” according to Philippians 2:11.

At Christmas, we are right to focus on Jesus Christ and the wonder of his birth. We rightly bow before him in worship, like the Magi. Yet, in doing so, we are not just looking back to the past. We are also anticipating the future advent of Christ, when he will be revealed in all of his power and glory. Then, we will join with all creatures in bowing before him and proclaiming that he is Lord. As we do, all the glory goes to God, who has come in Jesus Christ to redeem us and to restore all creation.

Thus our Christmas praise is also anticipatory praise. We praise the one who came and entered creation in order to renew it. We praise the one who will one day be exalted above all creation, the one before whom we will bend our knees in worship, proclaiming that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Though Christmas draws near, we are still in the season of Advent, in which we remember the first advent (coming) of Jesus and look forward to his second advent. As you think about the future coming of Christ, what do you envision? What does your heart long for?

In your expressions of worship, what helps you to think of God’s future, when Christ will be exalted and all things will be restored?

PRAYER:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love. Amen.*

*This psalm-based hymn, which was not intended originally for Christmas, was written by Isaac Watts in 1791. It is in the public domain.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Best of Daily Reflections: Keeping Christmas Well: Imitate the Humility and Sacrifice of Jesus