Saturday, December 20, 2008


Contrasting images are brought to our minds during this holiday season. One image is that of elves and reindeer and one particular jolly fat elf in a red suit. There is glitz and tinsel all around. There are also signs advertising giant sales, urging us to spend and spend some more, while loud music blares extolling the praise of Santa and Rudolph and sleigh rides.

There is another picture of happy families celebrating together around a decorated tree with brightly wrapped gifts beneath. There is food on the table – a turkey with all the trimmings. Everyone appears well fed and happy.

The last is the simple picture of a poor, road-weary middle-eastern young couple in a stable gazing reverently at a newborn baby, wrapped in ragged cloths, lying in a feeding trough. They are surrounded by a variety of barnyard animals, staring curiously at the baby in the trough. There may also be some rough, dirty men, shepherds standing reverently by.

These images appeal to contrasting feelings and urges within us: greed and generosity; self-centeredness and reverence; loneliness and gregariousness.

Apparently the believers in Philippi to whom Paul wrote were a lot like we are: selfish, ambitious, proud. To counter these negative traits, Paul takes them to another image, that of the incarnation of Christ, the greatest act of self-humiliation.

“Do nothing according to selfishness (or selfish ambition) nor according to empty conceit, but in low-mindedness considering one another as surpassing yourselves, not looking out only for your own interests but also for those of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4).

But Paul doesn’t simply give us “oughts.” In a beautiful piece of poetry, he gives us the example of the One who was God and became Man.

“Set your minds on this among yourselves,
which was also in Christ Jesus,
Who being God in form
did not consider being equal with God,
something to be clung to,
but emptied Himself
taking the form of a slave
becoming in the likeness of man
and being found in appearance as man
He humbled Himself
becoming obedient right up to death
even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Here is what the season is all about. The pre-incarnate Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, equal with God, emptied Himself of His divine privileges and entered His own creation as a human being – an embryo in the womb of a peasant girl, then a baby born in a barn. And if that were not humiliation enough, He humbled Himself even more, even to the point of dying on a cross, a death reserved for the lowest and most despised of criminals.

As we think on the images that we are faced with at this season, we believe this is the appropriate one to think on, a mental picture of the One who gave His all for us.

More later.

Bill Ball

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