Gratitude has numerous benefits. Behavior and medical science tell us so. As does the Bible. No doubt we should offer thanks to God because God deserves it, and because it’s the polite thing to do. But when we express our gratitude to God, we also benefit in many ways. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes that he thanks God every time he remembers his church in Philippi (1:3). And when he does this, he does it with joy… always.
Rejoicing in the midst of trials, tragedies, and difficulties does not require the denial of the present pain. What you are seeing, and experiencing is real. Nevertheless, you should rejoice because your success is not rooted in your situation, or even in your ability to fix it—but it is firmly grounded in the track record of God. This is why Psalm 43 instructs us to place our hope in God as the remedy for a downcast soul. This is also why we are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord.
This is what it means to hear someone else’s story and honor it, value it, and treasure it. This is what it means to enter into relationship with another person, another group of people. Of course, Jesus was our best example of this. He moved into our neighborhood (as Eugene Peterson has paraphrased it), and did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead, Jesus made himself nothing so that he could draw near to us, and heal us.
It’s easy to get used to being put on a pedestal. We may say we don’t want to be on a pedestal, but the benefits of pedestal living are hard to resist once we start to experience them. I’ve heard it said that we weren’t made for fame. I think that’s true. Only a few of us can truly handle position and power well. In fact, Jesus was our best example.
[Church camp is] where I first heard the song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians.” The hymn was written in the 60s, by Peter R. Scholtes. A parish priest in Chicago, Scholtes was leading a youth choir and “was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events.” Unable to find a song that worked, Scholtes wrote his own, and it has stood the test of time.
The imagery of Philippians 3:12 reveals a God who wraps us up in his love and thus calls us to fully grasp the immensity of this reality. Paul’s leadership was based on his identity as one seized by the love of God. The problem that many people face is that they more readily grasp the negative labels and harmful words inflicted upon them more than they do the love of God.
Here in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul has just stressed how much he has given up in order to attain the matchless beauty of Christ (3:8-11). But he doesn’t want to mislead his readers into thinking he has attained perfection, so he emphasizes that even he, the Apostle Paul, has much room to grow… The best of leaders know that learning is a lifelong process, never assuming that they have arrived.
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.
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.
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… Yet there are other passages in the New Testament that tell the story of Christmas from different perspectives. One of these passages appears in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in the second chapter.