I will keep it short today, these ponderings, for the sake of the reader who, like me, finds the ‘to do’ list growing and has yet one more trip to make to the store for ‘stocking stuffers’ and last essentials…while the days grow fewer for ‘getting ready’ to celebrate Jesus appearance on the earthly scene.
I found the Christmas story in an unexpected place this morning—reading the book of Philippians. This is the time of year when letters come re-capping the losses and gains and accomplishments of another year. It’s always a little bit of a challenge for me not to begin comparing our story with others’ and feeling either ashamed or envious in response. Of course there are always other letters that are full of sadness and hard things. These remind me how good we have it. But always, there’s this tendency to compare, to turn others interests into self-interest…
This morning I was reminded of my calling, of Jesus’ attitude, and Paul’s. The verses themselves are very familiar, but the attitude a rather rare one. And read in the flow of a whole letter, and with the backdrop of nativity scenes and carols playing, they are freshly poignant:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
There He is, the baby in the manger—not threatened that He will lose His identity, or be overlooked or thought lowly—committed to the interests of others, ME in fact. Willing to lay aside all His divine prerogatives to take on the identity of a human being and a lowly one at that, and ultimately to submit Himself to shameful mistreatment and finally death at the hands of His enemies. He was looking out for the interests of others, ready to die for their good. And in this context comes that verse: so now “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
These annual letters are ‘God stories’. He is working out His good pleasure in each of us and invites us to join in by learning Jesus’ attitude. It’s not so much about pedestal building or maintaining as it is of giving ourselves in the best interests of others, losing ourselves in the service of our Father….
The book of Philippians is replete with this theme. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Paul had all manner of accomplishments to tout but he recognized they were liabilities if he put his confidence in them. He consigned them to the compost pile in favor of finding his identity in Christ’s righteousness and laying down his own life for others’ benefit.
And that is the Christmas story, lived out again in the life of each of us as we choose to be about our Father’s business. I commend to you a fresh read-through of Philippians this Christmas time. And I close with Paul’s blessing, as my Christmas wish for all of us.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”