Advent 2 – The Brightest Display

Scripture:  Philippians 2:5-11

One of the most beautiful sights around Christmas time is the night lit up by the multitude of colorful lights adorning houses, trees, bushes, and anything else they can be hung on.  Perhaps the character most closely associated with these luminous displays is “that guy”:  the one who risks life and limb scurrying up and down ladders; who flirts with imminent electric demise as he tries to plug all of his strings of lights into not so many outlets; all in the name of having the brightest (and sometimes gaudiest) display in the neighborhood.  Competition can be fierce as each homeowner tries to outshine their peers and garner the most praise and attention for their decorations.

When we contemplate the coming of Christ into the world, we find something different, something not so bright and attention-grabbing.  When Jesus was born, He was laid in a manger as opposed to a crib.  This lack of proper bedding is often seen as representing the humility in which Christ came.  However, the humility of Christ goes beyond the manger.  If we look at Philippians 2:5-8, we get a better view of what Christ’s humility is all about:

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of Himself.  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of Himself that He had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.  Not at all.  When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, he stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim any special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”

If we consider only the manger, we see only part of Christ’s humility.  We do not see just how far Christ lowered Himself for our sakes to honor God the Father.  We’re talking about setting aside His position in heaven with the rest of the Trinity.  He had every right not to come to earth and be surrounded by all the vileness of sin. What is especially striking is that, being perfect, He was least deserving to suffer and die for our sins.  Yet he did all of these things just the same.

We read the following in Philippians 2:9-11:

“Because of that obedience, God lifted Him high and honored Him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow down in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that He is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.”

Christ was exalted because of His humble obedience to the God, even to the point of the most disgraceful and humiliating death one could die at the time.  He honored God through this obedience that knew only God; not pride, nor privilege.  He put the honor of His position aside in order to serve and glorify God.

As we consider the birth of Christ, we are called to humble ourselves as He was humble.  This raises the question of how we are to do this.  Fortunately, Paul gives us some pointers a few verses prior to 5:8-11.  Paul writes:

”Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Just like Christ set aside His own privileges and position, so we are to think of others before ourselves.  This isn’t to say that we devalue ourselves; Christ didn’t become any less God when He came down to earth.  What it means is that we don’t focus exclusively on our own benefits; instead we look for the ways, big or small, that we can help those around us.  We become servants to others as Christ demonstrated when He washed the disciples’ feet.

It is not my intention to say we shouldn’t have flashy Christmas displays.  They are great fun (even some of the gaudy ones).  What is of the great importance, though, is what is in our hearts.  If we are constantly thinking about ourselves and how we’re going to get ahead, we will certainly miss something greater.  We will fail to see and take part in the brightest, most brilliant and resplendent display there is:  the praising and glorifying of God with our whole selves alongside the rest of creation.

Practical questions:

  1. Why might we equate humility with devaluing ourselves rather than submission and obedience?
  2. What are some areas in your life where you are especially tempted set yourself before and above others?  Why?
  3. What are some specific ways that you can practice humility today/tomorrow?
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