Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 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.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Christmas is not just a holiday to be enjoyed, not just a time for family reunions, tasty banquets, and gift-giving. Christmas is not just a time for people to marvel at the fact that God became human in Jesus, being born in stable and laid in a manger. It’s not just a time for once-a-year worship services with beloved carols, candlelight, and enacted Nativity scenes.
Christmas is also a summons, a summons to a different way of living. We see this in Philippians 2. In yesterday’s devotion, I suggested that the first part of this chapter is, in fact, a version of the Christmas story. The traditional narrative elements are missing: no baby in a manger here or shepherds in the fields. But, in Philippians 2:7 we’re told that Christ “made himself nothing,” choosing not to use his equality with God for his own advantage. Rather, he chose to be “made in human likeness.”
The self-giving sacrifice of Christ in becoming human sets the stage for an even more shocking sacrifice that is to come. In time, he will “[humble] himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (2:8). This death will bring life to us. Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, fulfills the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, who “was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
This is good news, surely something to be celebrated. But how is it a summons to a different way of living? We see this in the way Philippians 2 frames the story of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion. Verse 5 reads, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” Previous verses set the relational tone by calling us to have “tenderness and compassion” (2:1), to be “like-minded, having the same love” (2:2), and to “value others above” ourselves by acting “in humility.” The shocking humility of Christ Jesus in becoming human and in dying on the cross provides a model for us to follow, an example for us to imitate.
Thus we heed the summons of Christmas not only by giving gifts, participating in holiday worship services, and wishing others a “Merry Christmas.” We live the truth of Christmas also by choosing to embody the humility and self-sacrifice of Jesus. Even as he did not use his authority for personal advantage, we are called to give up our rights in service to others. Even as Jesus put the needs of others above his own, so we ought to do the same, whether we’re at home or at work, in a busy line at the mall or serving soup at a homeless shelter. We live the truth of Christmas when we choose the way of servanthood, humility, and sacrifice… just like Christ did.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways do you imitate the servanthood and humility of Jesus in your life?
How is it possible to do this in “secular” settings, like, perhaps, your workplace?
Can you think of ways you might imitate Christ’s humility today as you serve others? Are you willing to do these things?
Gracious God, we stand in awe when we consider the extraordinary sacrifice of Christ, which begins with his willingness to become human for our sake. During Christmas, we celebrate this wonder and grace of the incarnation.
And we hear again your summons to imitate Christ’s humility and self-giving love. Even as our Lord “emptied himself” in order to serve us, so we are to do the same. Help us, Gracious God, to imitate the servanthood of Jesus in our work and in our homes, as we care for our neighbors and as we interact with our colleagues.
Father, this Christmas, as we celebrate the humble birth of Jesus, may we choose his way of humility, for your purposes and glory. Amen.