But Made Himself Nothing

Philippians 2:5-11

24 December 2011

Woodley Baptist Church

Midnight Communion


Don't you think it's interesting, that on the eve of celebrating the birth of Jesus, what we choose to remember is his death?

That's what we will be doing in communion. We will take a piece of bread to remember Jesus' body nailed to a cross for us; we will sip some wine—or grape juice—to remember Jesus' blood shed for us as he died.

Why do we think that this is an appropriate way to celebrate his birth?

The obvious link is that, in order to die for us, Jesus had, of course, to be born as one of us. He had to become a real human being so that later he could die as a real human being in our place — and real human beings are born, not made. Romans chapter 8 says that, By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Jesus' birth) and as a sin offering (Jesus' death), [God] condemned sin in the fleshref. Jesus was born in order to die; born human as we are, but without our sin, and then offering himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. That would be a good sermon, but it's not the one I'm going to preach tonight.

The passage from Philippians that I read to you makes a different link between Jesus' birth and his death.

This is how it speaks of Jesus' birth. [He], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.ref

The context here is humility. In his birth which we celebrate at Christmas, we see the humility of God. Jesus Christ is God, in very nature — eternal, all powerful, all knowing, the creator of the galaxies and stars and planets, the Higgs Boson, the very fabric of space-time.

Yet, he chose, freely, to become a man: weak, limited, vulnerable. And not a superman, but an ordinary man who bleeds, who feels pain, who hungers and thirsts, who sleeps, who sweats, who weeps. And not only a man, but a baby. Helpless. Unable to speak, to walk, to feed itself, to regulate its temperature, even to see properly for the first few weeks. Utterly dependent on its mother for life.

And not a baby born in a palace, or to a wealthy family, or even in a house. But born away from home, to parents unable even to find a bed for the night.

[He] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.ref At that moment, God is a baby lying in an animal's feeding trough.

Humility, then, is the link between his birth and his death. Reading on, And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!ref

It is not enough that Jesus is humble in birth; he also chooses to be humiliated in death: betrayed; crucified, the execution method for criminals; stripped; spat upon; mocked.

Here is a theme that we see clearly both at Jesus' birth and at his death, and at all points in between: He humbled himself.

By contrast, Kim Jong Il—the Supreme Leader of North Korea who died last week—was not known in any way for his humility. He preserved his influence through a sort of personality cult. For example, North Korean state media officially reported that, the very first time he played golf, he shot 38 under par, including 11 holes in one. I have to admit to finding this barely credible, but it is officially recorded.

With no apparent understanding of humility at all, perhaps it is unsurprising that Kim Jong Il became the most ruthless persecutor of Christians in the last 20 years. It is estimated that up to 70,000 Christians are in labour camps for their faith, and just owning a Bible in North Korea can get you and your family killed.

Lack of humility is clearly bad for us, with effects ranging from merely making us look ridiculous at the milder end, to turning us into hardened God-haters at the other. And in the passage that we read, the problem that the Apostle Paul was addressing is the breakdown of relationships—perhaps a timely reminder as Christmas remains the the worst period for family strife.

So what are we to learn from these examples of Jesus' humility this Christmas?

Well, the challenge is to be like him: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesusref says the Apostle Paul.

As we reflect this Christmas on how Jesus, through whom the universe was created, chose to pour his infinite infinity of infinities into a small, helpless baby weighing just a few pounds, making himself nothing, we too should be prepared to make ourselves nothing. For it is when we are nothing that God can make us something.

One way we can show humility is to serve others, of course, especially when our service is unseen. But perhaps the greatest act of humility we can perform is the apology—something Jesus never had to do, but something I suspect many of us need to make to someone. If there is somebody with whom you are at odds, with whom you need to "swallow your pride" and simply say sorry to—making yourself nothing—this Christmas might be an excellent time to do it.

Or it may be that the person you really need to humble yourself before is God. Perhaps, this Christmas, it's time to forgo being the supreme dictator of your life, and to make Jesus your Lord. It's a deeply humbling experience to say to God, "Lord, I've realised that I am wrong and you are right; I want to live your way from now on". This is what I did about 26 years ago, and it was hard, but it's much easier than what he did for me.

The passage we read goes on to tell us that one day every knee will bow before Jesus. Every single one of us will kneel before him either willingly or unwillingly. For those who have not willingly come to him in love and service, it will not end well.

So, will you humble yourself before Jesus this Christmas, as we remember that he humbled himself for you both in his birth and in his death?