Bernie Diaz, December 19, 2017
Our church just celebrated this past weekend, a wonderful Christmas fellowship and “Love Feast”, as we call it, emulating the early church’s congregational gatherings, and not only did we worship God and his gift to us in Christ by word and music, we had fun – just plain ole’ fun, as in fun and games, as well as sharing a wonderful meal together and a candlelit singing of Silent Night.
It was a real birthday party, which jives with the literal meaning of Christmas, which to take the Latin meaning of the suffix translated in English to ‘mas,’ (from mass) as a festival or celebration, we literally celebrated the birth of Christ as the ultimate birthday party.
However, I remain struck by the paradoxes of this holiday, the juxtaposition of the very first Christmas, as in the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, to the sort of secular, carnival mentality that exists today with Christmas in the western world.
It’s the humility and poverty of the stable of the first Christmas event, compared with the wealth, indulgence and hoopla surrounding all the gift giving, as in the case of hysteria seen on ‘Black Friday,’ that I find most interesting.
So, thinking about Jesus and His birth as the real “reason for the season” begs the question, how should we observe what has become a national holiday? While it is true that there is no biblical holiday that marks the birth of Jesus, nor is there a command given to celebrate it at a later time, there is also no command found which prohibits its observance if not its celebration.
But what is often missed, is the profound theological foundation of this holiday, which goes deeper than just wishing someone a ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.’
As the recently departed theologian R. C. Sproul explained the observance of Christmas, “We’re going to celebrate the thing that’s most important in our lives, the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ. So, this is going to be a time of joyous festivities, of celebration and worship of our God and King.'”
Incarnation then is what I want to focus on in this post, being that the whole gospel story is a story of redemption, and God becoming a baby to achieve it. So, being that God owns every day of the year anyway, why not redeem a day set apart for pagan worship (as it was originally) and use it instead to glorify the Lord?
The babe in the manger – God in a manger, is the Godhead’s means by which our redemption is secured, so what really drew me to the reality of the incarnation (God becoming man) of Christ – a revelation of sorts I discovered several years ago, was the discovery of the real message and mission of Christmas among the most unlikely of biblical places – Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It was spiritually serendipitous, which for us is the work of the Holy Spirit.
What’s remarkable about the message of Christmas- a real significant part of it, may be boiled down to one word- humility. That word as the message and mission of Christmas is really a stark contrast to the modern idea of this holiday. Where does this idea or theme come from and how can we apply it? What does it have to do with us?
Philippians features the apostle as a peacekeeper determined to mediate a conflict in this letter from his prison cell in Rome as he appeals to harmony and reconciliation to come from two sisters in the church, from the high motive of love pictured in one word- humility (2:3-4). But again, what does this have to do with Christmas?
Philippians 2:5-11 is a theological masterpiece on Christ- Who HE is, and why HE came and what the triune God-head was thinking about in defining this Christmas holiday in two big ways through a call to humility. The Message of Christmas comes..
By the Incarnation of Christ (Phil. 2:5-7)
Paul introduces this grand idea and presentation of Christ with a call to all of us to be understanding and wise like Jesus (v. 5). In other words, we are to have a single-minded attitude like Christ which he repeats in Romans and the Corinthian letters all over the place.
That mind of Christ he wants us to have is be: selfless, sacrificial and serving. So, what does Paul do to illustrate that? He points us to Jesus of course and by extension, Christmas. The Son of God did the single most selfless thing he could do in his incarnation- he abandoned his sovereign position on earth to benefit those less worthy- us.
.. though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Phil. 2:6, ESV),
Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or seized by man. Paul is saying clearly that Jesus is God in the flesh (incarnate)- the God/man- 100% God and 100% man. In other words, If God the Father would choose to come to earth as a man in the flesh, He would look like this…Jesus. “He being in the form of God.”
Just think about the word, “being” for a moment. Being denotes the person’s essential nature, essence and the outward expression of the inward nature. The nature of Christ is that of God. It describes that part of a person that can’t be changed, it is essential to His very existence and it always remains the same. I and my Father are one (Jo. 10:30).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jo. 1:1-2, 14).
Jesus Christ was selfless in his Christmas incarnation, in that while retaining His personhood as God the Son, He gave up equality with God in His position or role for his mission on earth. This is why the New Living Translation (NLT) renders Phil. 2:6 as, Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God.
That should clear up the idea by the way for the cults and others that struggle with Jesus referring to God the Father as his ‘Father.’
In Humility and for the Worship of Christ (Phil. 2:8-11)
Lots of people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost anything or a lot. If there’s a big price to pay like sacrifice, they may lose interest but not Jesus. He humbled himself by sacrificing his life- that’s the ultimate price to pay. He died the worst possible death on the cross. Some historians have said, “Anybody who died on a cross, died a thousand deaths.”
Why is that? Death on the cross was painful and shameful. You were accursed, Deut. 1:23 says, “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” Christ became a curse for us – his church, absorbing the wrath of God on our behalf. This was the most shameful form of execution, like the electric chair or gas chamber more recently would be reserved for the worst criminals.
Make no mistake, this baby was born to die- to die unjustly, so sinners wouldn’t have to eternally.
The whole message of Christmas- the motive behind it- behind everything to us lies in this passage from Paul’s pen. The whole purpose of the incarnation and humiliation of Jesus is the glory of God in and through God His Son. As Christ prepared to go to the cross for his church, he prayed this to his father..
…”Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You (Jo. 17:1).
How? Phil. 2:9 tells us that God exalts or lifts up Jesus, not only in the resurrection after his cross work, but by giving him “the” name. It’s the name “Lord” (Kurios). It’s not just the name Jesus – that’s an earthly name. many other people name their sons Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew (the Lord saves). It’s this name above every name that is this Jesus, who is Lord.
There is coming a time- maybe sooner than we think, in which everyone on or under the earth will confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father. Don’t think for a minute that the people in hell don’t know Jesus is Lord. He is the Lord of hell and they now know it.
People who have denied or rejected Christ will actually confess His Lordship now, or later. If I were given the power to choose, I would rather confess him now and take those blessings that come with the opportunity to confess him as Lord forever in heaven than to have to do it forever in the torment that is hell.
This passage from Philippians explains then the goal of ministry and missions. That is, the universal worship of God and His Christ. As John Piper has said, ‘Missions is not even the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is.’
The idea to share in this final week of Christmas preparation with your lost family or friends and co-workers is, “Do they want to join this hallelujah chorus the redeemed church is in, or the confessors that are condemned? This is the real message of Christmas. It came by the incarnation of Christ, by the humility of Christ, and for the worship of Christ.
Tell them, to join in the worship, to really enjoy Christmas, tell them, “Merry Christmas”, and do what Ro. 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”