For many in our world, grabbing all you can to turn around and give all you can is what Christmas is all about.
“I just can’t get in the Christmas Spirit,” a friend recently said. “I don’t particularly like this month,” said another. Even good ole’ Charlie Brown became disenchanted with the commercialization of Christmas. With all the crowds, the impatient drivers, memories of lost loved ones, the financial pressures, and the fear of being pepper-sprayed – sometimes it’s hard to get in the Christmas Spirit.
In a world gone mad, how do we celebrate Christmas in a way that transcends the trappings of the holiday? How do we get in the Spirit of Christmas when we just don’t feel like it? How do we find the Christmas Spirit without it feeling forced upon us by our culture, by our world, or by our calendar? The Bible makes it clear – take on the Spirit of Christ at Christmas.
“Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5
The spirit of Christmas doesn’t happen externally – it requires an attitude adjustment from the inside-out. Make your attitude the same as Christ Jesus when He came into the world. To “have this attitude” means “to develop an attitude based upon careful thought.” The Apostle Paul is inviting you and me to rethink our attitude about Christmas based upon Christ’s attitudes (2:6) and His actions (2:7–8). Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.
Mark Twain once said, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” I think we’ve all felt this way from time to time about Jesus. In the same way I could think, “I’ll never be a major league baseball player, so why even try.” We can look at the life and attitude and Christ and surmise, “I’ll never be like Him, so why even try?” Obviously, living up to the attitude of Christ is not easy. It’s a pursuit that humbles every believer to dust; nevertheless, we are commanded to pursue this lofty goal today knowing that the Holy Spirit will internally empower believers in Christ to do what we can’t do on our own.
Again, let me ask you, How is your Christmas Spirit? How is your attitude about Christmas today? Does it line up with the attitude of Jesus Christ or with your natural tendencies and inclinations? Do have more of an Occupy Wall Street attitude or an Occupy Wal-Mart approach. The Scripture says, let the same kind of thinking dominate you today that dominated Christ Jesus when He came into the world as a baby and died on the cross to forgive our sins.
Three attitudes reflect the Spirit of Christ at Christmas:
1. We find the spirit of Christmas when share Christ’s attitude of giving rather than grabbing.
“Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.” Philippians 2:6
Our Lord Jesus could have grabbed His pre-incarnate privileges with both hands like an X-box 360 on sale and not let them go, but instead He released them and gave Himself for us. When Jesus became a man, He laid aside the freedom that His former manner of existence had afforded Him. He even gave up any special appearance that might have distinguished Him from looking like any ordinary Middle Eastern Jew. He gave up the benefits of living a long life and voluntarily died, misunderstood and ridiculed, as the worst kind of criminal. He gave up not just things, including His exalted and honored position in the heavenly courts, but He gave Himself to humankind so that we might enjoy an eternal relationship with God.
Rather than simply thinking about giving in the form of tangible presents this year, how about developing the Christmas Spirit by giving more of your personal presence; first to God and then to others. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Take on the Spirit of Christ this Christmas – give more!
2. We find the spirit of Christmas when we share Christ’s attitude of serving rather than hoarding.
“Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:7
Jesus came down from heaven to earth in the greatest stoop of all time. Instead of climbing up the ladder, Jesus stepped down, one rung at a time.
But this leads to a question: What does the phrase “emptied Himself” mean? We can be sure of one thing: This phrase doesn’t mean that Jesus emptied Himself of any of His divine attributes – emptying by subtraction. If Jesus did such a thing for even one moment, He would cease to be God. Fortunately, the next clause in 2:7 explains the meaning of “emptied Himself”—“by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.” Jesus’ act of “emptying” Himself was in His act of “taking” on a human nature. It was emptying by addition. In other words, Jesus, being God, “emptied Himself” by adding humanity. The phrase “emptied Himself” is only a metaphor, so the truth that the Holy Spirit reveals through Paul is that Jesus Christ practiced self-denial and self-sacrifice for our sake and added flesh to His eternal existence. What an astounding, unfathomable thought. Jesus left the glory and splendor of heaven and came to dwell on earth to serve others. He understood the way up is down.
Paul fleshes out this attitude of Christ Jesus further by stating that He took “the form of a slave being made in the likeness of men” (2:7). Paul could have said that Jesus took on the form of a human being. That would be humiliation enough for God. There is a general Greek word for humanity that Paul could have used here, or he could have used a word that means a male as opposed to a female. But Paul uses neither of these. Instead, he chose the more specific Greek term δοῦλος, which means “slave” or “bond-servant.” In other words, Jesus became a particular kind of man, a slave, the lowest position a person could become in the Roman world.
Christ Jesus wasn’t born in a mansion or a king’s palace, but in a dirty stable among the animals. The Almighty God appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The King of the Universe, the Lord of glory, voluntarily became a pauper for our sake. Although “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom 11:36), He had to borrow a place to be born, a boat to preach from, a place to sleep, a donkey to ride upon, an upper room to use for the last supper, and a tomb in which to be buried. He created the world but the world did not know Him. He was insulted, humiliated, and rejected by the people He made.
The more you and I think about it, the more staggering it gets. Jesus went as low as He could possibly go. This means no matter what you go through, no matter how low you may get, you can never sink so far that Jesus cannot get under you and lift you up. He can identify with you in any situation, no matter how hard: poverty, loneliness, homelessness, rejection, you name it (Hebrews 4:15).
We glorify God when we share Christ’s attitude of serving Him and others rather than hoarding all the things that we think are ours – including our time, our words, our talents, our encouragement, and our treasures. Take on the Spirit of Christ – serve more!
3. We find the spirit of Christmas when we share Christ’s attitude of forgiving rather than withholding love, grace and mercy.
“And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.” Philippians 2:7-8
Jesus died because of our sin, our faults, our lies, our insecurities, and our fears. He died willingly for everything that was our fault. Rather than blaming us, He forgave us because of His love, grace and mercy.
This verse reminds us that Jesus “humbled himself.” No one humbled Jesus; He willingly and graciously offered Himself to death. Forgiveness requires humility. The implication is that you and I should do the same.
As we reflect on Paul’s words about Christ humility in dying, it is easy to sense his astonishment. He can’t believe that Jesus—God Himself—died for us! And to think that He experienced “even death on a cross” is mindboggling! Jesus suffered as no one else, but it wasn’t the physical pain that caused Him the most suffering. Neither was it the taunting and humiliation He endured from His enemies as they watched Him die. The agony Jesus endured on the cross was the abandonment He suffered as God the Father turned His back on His Son in order for our sins to be forgiven (Matthew 27:46).
God’s forgiveness because of His grace and mercy is one of the driving themes of God’s relationship with His creation. We deserve God’s wrath, but He forgives our many sins (Psalm 65:3). We deserve God’s judgment, but He forgives us because He loves us (Psalm 86:5). We deserve death, but by God’s grace Christ Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). Taking on the same attitude of Christ Jesus enables us to forgive others (Matthew 6:14–15). Giving careful thought to Christ’s humility prevents us from keeping track of how many times you and I have to forgive (Matthew 18:21–35). When we have the Christmas spirit, we freely forgive others as God has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13).
The price that Jesus paid for humankind is staggering. Paul urges you and me to ponder the wonder of Jesus. We glorify God when we share Christ’s attitude of forgiving rather than withholding love, grace & mercy. This Christmas – forgive more!
In verses 9-11, there is an abrupt change:
For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
The previous verses describe what the Lord Jesus did. But now we turn to a consideration of what God has done. The Savior gave Himself; God also has highly exalted Him. Jesus did not seek a name for Himself; God has given Him the name that is above every name. Jesus bent His knees in service to others; God has decreed that every knee shall bow to Him.
Christ was lifted up in Heaven after He had come down to earth! Living is found in dying. This is the spirit of Christmas. The way to truly live is to selflessly give, sacrificially serve and to humbly forgive.
This Christmas – give more, serve more, and forgive more in order to live more!
Lord Jesus, as we consider all it meant for you to become human, we stand in awe of your condescension. You hold the universe together by your power, yet you voluntarily gave up the glories of heaven. You forever infused dignity into our human existence that we only begin to understand. As we seek to defend our ‘rights’ we are taken back by Your humility. Help us to seek to understand and consider the needs of one another ahead of ourselves, that it may cause You to look great! As we live for You, give us the strength to give more, serve more, and forgive more. Amen.