The Spirit of Christmas

Without attributing more to Charles Dickens than we should, his 1843 A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas has helped our culture to shift its focus on Christmas away from what happened objectively when God became man to a time when people (hopefully) turn from Scrooge type attitudes and have warm feelings towards the Tiny Tims of this world. Philippians 2:5–11, possibly an ancient hymn, is perhaps the richest Christological passage in the New Testament. It focuses, not on your feelings, but on what God has done in the incarnation.

Marvel at the incarnation! Christ Jesus was in very nature God. He was in very nature (KJV & NKJ “form of”) God. Form makes wood a pulpit, rather than a table or chair. All that God is, Jesus Christ is. He is eternal. He is Creator. Paul’s use of “form” here (similar to “image” in Colossians 1:15 and elsewhere), begins to point you in the direction of the creation account, where God’s final creative activity was to make man in his image and likeness. Paul is suggesting that Christ is the second Adam, the true image and form of God. All the glory of heaven belongs to him. Equality with God is not blasphemy or something to be grasped — it is the truth. Remember how Herod was punished when he accepted the praise that his was the voice of a god, Acts 12:19–23. Adam’s temptation was to become like God. But being like God was not something that the second Adam held onto. Christ continues to be God, even in the incarnation. That is the term which describes God becoming man, the Word becoming flesh. While he left the glory of heaven and accepted certain limitations as the God-man, he is still God. He did not empty himself of his deity, verse 7. In his incarnation he did not cease to be God. Rather, he “made himself nothing” (or KJV “made himself of no reputation”). Although the literal meaning is “empty” the term is often used in a sense other than literal. The context explains the verb in terms of addition, not subtraction. The kenotic theory of the incarnation is wrong.

Yet Jesus made himself nothing (v. 7), or ’emptied himself.’ Paul does not mean that the evacuated himself of the power of deity. He explains that his words mean that Jesus took the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Lord of glory though he was, he emptied himself, not by subtraction of his divine attributes, but by the assumption of human nature. He was Immanuel, God truly with us, fully God and yet truly man.”

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians, pages 43–44

And, having finished his work of redemption, the ascended Christ is still truly human as well as truly God. The incarnation is permanent.

God became man for you! He voluntarily left the glory of heaven and became truly man. He took the nature of a servant. Incarnation would always involve humiliation, even apart from the fall. How much more when Christ took upon himself the nature of sinful, fallen people — without being a sinner himself. He took the very nature (form, again) of a servant. And he is not just a servant. He came as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. The scene contrasts with that of the first Adam, who was created in paradise. He was called to obey his Creator-Father, and then would move to the confirmation in life, the implied opposite of the threatened death. This second Adam leaves the glory of heaven and takes upon himself our truly human nature with all of its limitations and sufferings. That is the context of his humiliation and of his obedience.

“The incarnation means that he who never began to be in his specific identity as Son of God, began to be what he eternally was not. We must appreciate the historic factuality and temporal occurrence of the incarnation and the sustained contrasts involved. The infinite became the finite, the eternal and supratemporal entered time and became subject to its conditions, the immutable became the mutable, the invisible became the visible, the Creator became the created, the sustainer of all became dependent, the Almighty infirm. All is summed up in the proposition, God became man. The title ‘God’ comprehends all the attributes that belong to God and the designation ‘man’ all the attributes that are essentially human.”

Collected Writings of John Murray, pages 132–133

Christ became obedient for you. Christ obeyed to the point of death. The work of Christ is defined in terms of obedience. He came for sin, Romans 8:3–4. As Son he learned obedience, Hebrews 5:8, the obedience which is the basis for your justification, Romans 5:19. He obeyed to the cross. He suffered for your transgressions and died obediently, Isaiah 53:4–8. He was willing to go to the most shameful death so that his Father could be glorified in forgiving you. Paul here, as well as the rest of Scripture, describes Christ’s work, not first of all as being an example, but rather in doing something; living, suffering, dying, and being raised as the Savior, the Suffering Servant. Your only hope in this life and for eternity is to place your trust in him.

Reflect Christ’s attitude. In a very real sense you cannot imitate Christ. His work is unique. You cannot atone for another. Christ is far more than an example. Yet… your attitude must be a reflection of his attitude of obedience in the incarnation. Be humble. Show concern for the body of Christ. As he obeyed to the point of death, be willing to obey (verse 12). When you find it hard to forgive, difficult to walk the paths God commands, look at the infinitely more difficult way your Savior trod. Because of his unique work in humbling himself and obeying in your place, you can, by the power of his Spirit, have the attitude of Christ. Look at the exaltation that follows Christ’s humiliation. That includes a glory in which you will share if you trust in him!

So what do you learn from Christmas? Is it simply don’t be an Ebeneezer Scrooge? Don’t act like a Grinch? Or, as you look at the incarnation, are you left in breath-taking awe that God became man, that he obeyed to the point of death — for you? If he did that, can you have the same attitude as that of Christ? You can follow him, for as the exalted Lord he leads you on the path he has gone.