Philippians 2:5-8 – “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!” 

It may seem strange for you to hear that the above description Paul gives us of Jesus is one of my favorite Christmas scriptures to read during Advent. You may want to protest that there are no Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, mangers, wise men, or stars anywhere to be found in this passage. Your observation would be both right and wrong. While you are right that none of the normal Christmas story characters except Jesus are present, you would be wrong to believe that Christmas isn’t present in these verses.

What Paul is describing in Philippians 2 is Jesus’s character. Now, to be true to the text, the reason he is describing Jesus’s character is that he wants those of us who follow Jesus to emulate it in our relationships with one another (v.5). 

But surely you see that when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:15) it was because Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” In other words, Christmas happened because Jesus didn’t demand His right to stay on the throne of Heaven, which, because He was God, was where He rightly belonged. 

The NIV translates the opening of verse 7 as “he made himself nothing,” but I think the Greek text much more strongly supports the New American Standard translation of “but emptied himself.” Either translation connotes a choice. Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation says, “When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave.” I think that gets to the heart of it. He allowed himself to be diminished in some way. 

There is so much to unpack in trying to figure out what “he emptied himself” means. The truth is we don’t completely understand the mystery or the nuances of the nature of the fully God and fully man person of Jesus in the flesh. What we do know is, from the womb to the tomb, Jesus accepted the limitations of what it means to be human somehow without inheriting the fallen human nature of Adam. As a human, Jesus was hungry, thirsty, frustrated, angry, surprised, tempted, overwhelmed, and exhausted. As a human, Jesus prayed, fasted, studied Scripture, sought out solitude and silence, and was part of a community of faith. As a human, Jesus experienced grief, joy, weeping, laughter, affirmation, temptation, victory, betrayal, friendship, sorrow, peace, and pain. 

And yet he remained fully God. I know; I don’t understand it all either. 

The amazing thing is that He lived this emptying, humbling, limited humanity out in obedience to its full conclusion: Death on a cross. 

One of the stories that so resonates with me is when Jesus was being arrested and rebuked Peter for cutting off someone’s ear. It’s recorded in Matthew 26:52-54: “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’”

Let me give you my interpretation of what Jesus is saying to Peter here: “I am still fully God, and with a word, even in my emptied human state, more than 72,000 angels would be put at my disposal to fight for me. So don’t be confused; what is happening to me is happening by God’s will and my choice.“

And there you see Christmas again: God’s will and Jesus’s choice. Because of the demands of the character of who He was, Jesus left heaven to come to earth on a rescue mission. Because of who He was, Jesus accepted the limitations of being human. Because of the demands of His character, He went to the manger and the cross. The first Christmas happened in virtual obscurity. The King of Heaven was born in an animal-holding pen to a poor Jewish girl who was far away from home because she had to register for a government census. That sounds about right for a humble entrance. Meanwhile, He stayed humble to the point of dying on a cross, wrongly condemned by His own people as a heretic and the government as a seditionist. 

And what motivated all of it was love. One way to talk about love is possessing the character to do what is best for others, even if it costs you something.

Christmas is about love. Christmas is about rescuing us when we couldn’t rescue ourselves. Christmas is about the character of the God who is love taking action on our behalf at His own expense. 

To have the same mindset and character as Jesus displayed at Christmas in our relationships with one another is a high ideal indeed. You might even call it the real spirit of Christmas. 

Yours in the journey,

Pastor Tim