“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
As December unfolds, we relish the opportunity of sharing another Christmas celebration. What a joy to ponder again the amazing miracle of the Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us (John 1:14), the God of the universe appearing as “Immanuel…God with us!” (Matthew 1:23)
Sometimes overlooked in the midst of the celebration of our Savior’s birth is the stunning “step down” Jesus modeled in the Christmas event. While the accounts of Luke and Matthew tend to dominate the Christmas landscape, the “Philippians Christmas story” deserves our thoughtful consideration for its focus on what Jesus willingly chose to surrender in accepting incarnation.
“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!” (Philippians 2:5-8)
The Christmas event requires a stunning “step down” on Jesus’ part—a choice to not claim the “rights” accorded His status as God. Jesus never stopped being God, but in accepting the necessary requirement of adding full humanity to His full divinity, Jesus chose to empty himself of the independent exercise of his rights as God (“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” [John 5:19], “…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” [John 8:28]).
In taking that step, Jesus opened himself to suffering, pain, and death—all parts of our shared human condition and all necessary elements for our salvation. That self-surrendering identification with us as human beings is highlighted in Hebrews 5:7-9: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
In stark contrast to our “rights obsessed” American culture, in which the independent exercise of personal rights is considered a high and inviolable virtue, Jesus’ Christmas “step down” models a radically different focus–one that surrenders personal rights for God’s glory and Kingdom purposes. Moreover, it is an example we as Christ followers are called to emulate. After all, Christmas celebrates the account of God the Father sending Jesus to open the door to hope for all humanity. So, when Jesus says in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” is He not calling us to that same heart of self-surrender and humility?
As we celebrate the incredible gift of Jesus’ Christmas arrival, may we also be challenged to freshly commit ourselves to His example of selfless surrender for the sake of God and others. As Jesus himself says in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”