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Thursday, December 5, 2013
An Empty Christmas

The real meaning of Christmas has at its heart, the word “empty.” Let me explain. As Christians, the reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Christ. The turning point of human history was when the second person of the trinity, God the Son, became a man.  Jesus was born being fully God and fully man. The theological term for this is “incarnation.”

 

One of the clearest passages in all of the New Testament explaining the great mystery of the incarnation is Philippians 2:5-8 (All passages are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted):

 

            Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although

            He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to   be

            grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made

            in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled

            Himself by becoming   obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

 

The King James Version translates v.7 as “made Himself of no reputation” while the NASB uses the word “emptied” to translate the Greek word (ekenosen). This is the literal meaning of the word.

 

This passage raises three important questions. First, of what did Jesus empty himself? It is clear from this passage and others that he did not empty himself of his deity. To this day he remains fully God and fully human (though his humanity now has a resurrected body). The teaching of this passage is that God, the Son, laid aside, emptied, or voluntarily gave up some of his God characteristics as God in order to get down on our level. Some of these characteristics include his omnipresence, his omnipotence, his glory and his omniscience. For example, the child Jesus had to learn like other children (Luke 2:52). As a man on earth, Jesus was dependent on God the Father when doing miracles or manifesting his divine characteristics.

 

To illustrate the point, I used to be a pretty good basketball player. Sometimes when playing with children, I would voluntarily play with one hand behind my back to get down on their level. I still had the full capacity, but chose to limit myself to get down on their level. This is what Jesus did. He voluntarily limited himself to achieve his purposes.

The incarnation of Christ is not an empty story, but a story of emptying. As the hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing puts it: “Veiled in flesh the God-head see, Hail the Incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”

 

This leads to the second important question, “Why did Jesus empty or limit himself by becoming human? Jesus became human to get down on our level. Throughout history, God has revealed himself in various ways, such as dreams, visions, and the prophets. But the ultimate revelation is through the incarnation (See Hebrews 1:1-3). We can personally know God because he revealed himself as a person. The apostle John uses the terminology that we can have fellowship with God because of the incarnation.

 

            What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our

            eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life, and the

            life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the

            eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, what we have

            seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us;

            and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. I John 1:1-4

 

The writer of the book of Hebrews goes into detail about how Jesus’ incarnation made it possible for Him to be our high priest. Becoming one of us, he became the ultimate high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). The ultimate reason he became a man was to atone for our sin. The book of Hebrews has a lot to say about Jesus being our high priest. Notice especially Hebrews 5:7-9.

           

As the culmination of all the Old Testament sacrificial system, Jesus became a man in order to become the perfect sacrifice, to be a substitute for us (see Hebrews 10:4-14). We can know and have fellowship with God because the barrier of sin has been dealt with through Jesus’ incarnation, perfect life, death, and resurrection. Forgiveness is found in Jesus, the great High Priest.

 

The last important question is, “What does Jesus’ emptying himself mean to those who have trusted Him?”

 

First, trusting Him brings an incredible peace and a clear conscience. Hebrews 10:19-22:

 

            Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood

            of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil,

            that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us

            draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts  sprinkled

            clean from an evil conscience...

 

We can come before God empty handed, not trusting in our abilities, good works, or religious affiliations, but only in Christ.

 

Second, trusting Him produces humility. The application that Paul makes in Philippians 2:2-5 is that we follow the example of Christ emptying himself by treating one another with humility.  Humility and love for others are core values for those who have trusted him.

 

Third, trusting Christ is the fulfillment of the Christmas message. If you focus on the materialism of Christmas, you risk losing your soul. Despite what the advertisers would entice you to believe, the yearning for more and more possessions will only lead to an empty Christmas and life. I hope you don’t have an empty Christmas, but experience the fullness of the Christ who emptied himself for you.

 

- Stephen Parks, PhD

Instructor of Global Studies


 
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