In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used
to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
If someone were to ask you where to find the Christmas story in the Bible, you’d rightly point to the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus as found in Matthew and Luke. There we have the familiar angelic visits, the miraculous conception, and the birth in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, as well as the distinctive elements found in each gospel (for example, magi in Matthew and shepherds in Luke).
Yet there are other passages in the New Testament that tell the story of Christmas from different perspectives (see John 1:1-18). One of these passages appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in the second chapter. We don’t have angels, wise men, or shepherds here, but we do have a stunning, poetic statement of the coming of Christ as a human being.
The key “Christmas” text in Philippians 2 is verse 7, where it is said of Christ Jesus that “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Don’t let the word “likeness” unsettle you. Paul believes that Christ, who was “in very nature God,” became fully human. In his humanity, Jesus looked not like a god in human form but like a real human being. He was truly one of us.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the “Christmas” story in Philippians 2:7 is the claim that Christ “made himself nothing.” The Greek reads more literally that he “emptied himself.” This does not mean that Jesus gave up his deity when he became human. Rather, it testifies to the extraordinary self-giving sacrifice of Christ, who, though equal to God, chose to take on the limitations and pains of human life.
In future devotions, I’ll have more to say about how this sacrifice can transform our lives. But, for now, I simply want to invite you to wonder and worship. It’s so easy for Christians like me to take the incarnation for granted. Yet when I step back and think about how much it cost Christ to become human, how much it cost God to enter truly into this limited and broken world, I am amazed. I am drawn to worship with awe and amazement.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you consider the unique nature of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human, what difference does this make to you?
What helps you to experience the wonder of Christmas?
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture—
in the body and the blood.
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the pow’rs of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, Lord most high!” Amen.*
*This hymn is based on an ancient Christian (4th century) text. This paraphrase was written by Gerard Moultrie (1864). It is in the public domain.