German 15th Century, Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles, c. 1490/1500, woodcut, hand-colored in red lake, dark blue, and lilac, Rosenwald Collection

He Emptied Himself

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,

   did not regard equality with God
  as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,

   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
[Philippians 2:5-7]

German 15th Century, Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles, c. 1490/1500, woodcut, hand-colored in red lake, dark blue, and lilac, Rosenwald Collection

German 15th Century, Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles, c. 1490/1500.

Jealousy is universal. (According to Exodus 20:5, even God is not immune!) Here in D.C., one of our particular jealousies may be envy of connections. Perhaps you’ve wondered of a colleague or neighbor, “Who does he know to have gotten that job!” Even those among us already in public service might imagine that, if only we had a more influential network or a well-known family, we could attain a position of greater service. I was having such a moment when I encountered today’s devotional text.

Matthew and John, each in their own ways, start their gospels by showing us Jesus’ impeccable lineage and connections. If anyone were entitled to exploit a family connection, it would be Jesus. Descending from Heaven as the Son of God, prepared to rule God’s chosen people in God’s name, would surely have drawn attention to His preaching and redemptive love. Paul shows us, however, that this would be contrary to His essential nature. The very same phrase of Paul’s letter, rendered in two different translations, reveals that even though Jesus might have “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (King James Version), he “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (New Revised Standard Version). He did not serve the poor in spirit, the meek, the salt of the earth, by calling attention to his position of divine authority, but by becoming one of them on Christmas Day.

The humility of Jesus is impossible for us to attain. Although we genuinely seek to serve, we usually do so by exploiting the status, resources, and privileges that we enjoy in Alexandria, rather than renouncing them. That’s an important role that we can play as God calls us to do. But our best resource, our oldest and most valuable connection, is the One who gave it all up. Paul reminds us that Jesus’s life of self-denial and sacrifice, which ended in the Passion, began when he took the form of a slave and was born in human likeness.

When we are beset by jealousy, anxiety, materialism, and all the challenges of the holiday season, may we find a moment to prepare for Christmas the way that Jesus prepared:

He emptied himself.

Listen:

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