Monday, December 8, 2008

Servant by Choice

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… [Who] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

                        Philippians 2.5,7

The Reason

One of the more wearying aspects of the Advent/Christmas season for me is what I call the “church marquee cliché.” If you’ve done any driving down avenues or roads lined with churches, chances are you’ve already got your fill of them: “Wise Men Still Seek Him,” “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and “Peace on Earth.” It’s not that I object to their sentiment or meaning. In fact, it’s because I cherish what they say that I find them disheartening. These messages carry great power and we should take none of them lightly. Reducing sacred ideas to taglines cheapens them, dragging them down to the level of clever advertising slogans, and after a while, they start to ring hollow.

My all-time pet peeve is “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” however. First, it sort of props Jesus up and leaves Him there without any further explanation. And second, it’s misleading. The birth of Christ is why we celebrate Christmas, but He came for one reason—us. If we lose sight of that, His nativity becomes no more than a terrific legend. The miracle of Christ, from Annunciation to Ascension, started centuries earlier when God decided to wrap Himself in human flesh as the final sacrifice to restore our damaged relationship with Him once and for all. This truth is so central to Jesus’s life that John spells it out before commencing His story. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1.1,14) We are the reason for the season.

Stooping to Conquer

In Philippians 2, Paul takes this concept one step further. He says by stooping to conquer the powers of sin that estranged us from God, Jesus modeled humility in life as well as death. After we claim the inheritance of Calvary, we adopt the attitude and characteristics that Christ exemplified while He dwelt among us. Paul stresses that Jesus became a servant by choice. He just as well could have come on the scene as God Almighty and commanded humankind to straighten up. Instead, Paul writes in verse 6, Christ “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” He relinquished His divinity and “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” While gestating in Mary’s womb, God was letting go of His supreme authority to transform Himself into a Child born to serve. It couldn’t have been easy to put Himself in such a lowly position. Yet He did it to present us with a perfect example to follow and subjugate Himself to the cross. “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death,” Paul says in verse 8.

Living the Life

Following Jesus is living the life of Christ. “Your attitude should be the same as His,” Paul tells the Philippians. Because Jesus chose to humble Himself in service to others, we choose to do this as well. We let go of our pride, our self-consciousness, and our fear, and we take on the mindset and nature of servants. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves,” Paul writes. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (v 3,4) He’s asking a lot of us here, more than we may be able or willing to do—especially at times when those we’re supposed to consider better than us mean us no good. But the servant’s chief responsibility is taking up the slack, doing what others can’t or won’t. Often it’s an ugly, thankless job and if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. As we continue to reflect on Christ’s coming during this Advent season, we should bear in mind His transformation from God to man required Him to set aside His nature and pick up that of a servant. We have every reason to follow His example, because the reason is us.

Following Jesus means we approach life via the service entry.

(Tomorrow: The Refiner’s Fire)  

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