If you’ve done any genealogy projects in your life then you know how exciting it can be to find a famous person in your ancestry. Even if you don’t find any famous people (or infamous people), like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or a King of England, it is really amazing to find the names of those who came before you, where they lived, what occupations they had, and even what religion they were.
Imagine for a moment that you are drawing the family tree of Joseph - which is exactly what Matthew does for us in this first chapter of his gospel. As we get close to Mary’s husband we hear how there was a man called Eliud, then his son was Eleazar, whose son was Matthan, who was the father of Joseph. But what is most remarkable to those who are in the line of King David is the child of Joseph - his name was Jesus which means “God saves.” Just imagine the excitement of discovering in your family lineage the Savior of the nations - God in the flesh - the incarnate Word.
This would be a profound discovery to say the least!
Matthew recalls the story by saying, “Joseph, husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” which means God’s special choice, Messiah, anointed one. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that this happened by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The best part about it is that, even if we cannot place ourselves in those boxes and in the lines of a drawn family tree, we know for certain that we are a part of this King of king’s family. We are all children of the Lord and we have all been offered the precious gift of God’s eternal salvation through this one - Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.
You know the heroic story of Joseph (Matthew 1) - his courage and selflessness, and his faith. It is much to be admired for sure, but I want to continue where we left off in Advent with the songs of salvation:
- Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord)
- Benedictus (Blessed be the Lord God of Israel)
- Nunc dimitus (Now you let your servant depart in peace)
- All are songs of salvation inspired by the Holy Spirit at the time before and after Christ’s birth. There’s one more song that is very important for us as people of faith. It was written down by St. Paul, though likely not penned by him. It would have been a hymn of the early church that the Philippians were familiar with. It is called the Kenosis hymn.
- Kenosis is a Greek word that means “to empty.”
'Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Php 2:5–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The miracle of the incarnation of God (God taking on flesh and becoming human) is that God in Jesus emptied himself of all power. He put aside all glory, strength and might that was a part of his divinity - to be birthed in a stable amongst the smallest and most insignificant of clans in Bethlehem.
Let’s just say - if you had the power to create everything out of nothing the way that God created the heavens and the earth and all that exists - would you be willing to give it all away? Would you set it aside? Would you give up your claim?
You would if you loved someone enough. You would if you were the Christ. We are the someones that God loved so much that he took on flesh and blood in order to save us from sin and death.
Humanity was in a terrible predicament before Christ’s arrival. We were failing miserably at keeping our side of the covenant relationship with God. We were captive to sin, disobedient to God’s will, and stubborn as stubborn could be. We still are! But there’s good news that saves us from such rebellion. God didn’t come to us as a helpless infant only to take up his divine power again! What he did for us was to put that power aside - it was the only way to change things for humanity because humanity couldn’t do it for ourselves and there existed a great chasm that separate people from the Heavenly Creator.
As we hear Paul speak about the humility of Christ, it is impossible for us to grasp because we are so deeply bound to our ego. We let our pride and ego take over all the time. We point the finger at other’s sin and fail to acknowledge our own. We fail to put Christ first in our lives - yet we practically demand that he listen to our woes. We worship him when it’s convenient for us; and we hide from him what we don’t want to admit to ourselves.
But the kenosis hymn reminds us of the depths of God’s grace for those who believe. It reveals to us the steadfast love and tenderness of our God. It assures us that there is no fear of God’s retribution in our lives because of this One: “Who though he was in the form of God (meaning he shared the very character and nature of God) did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped.” Jesus did not count on his godliness to get him through human life. He never held onto it or retained it by force or otherwise. Rather, he emptied himself of his divinity by taking on the form of a servant.
The word "servant" is actually SLAVE in Greek (doulos).
Jesus became less than human in order to save humanity. He became subservient to the likes of Peter the deny-er, James & John - the power hungry, Mary - his mother who demanded he turn water into wine before he was ready to reveal himself to the public, Thomas - the doubter, Pilate- the Roman governor who washed his hands of Jesus even though he knew He was innocent, Judas- the traitor, Caiaphas & Annas- the Jewish high priests who were terrified of the impact Jesus was having on the people, and Barabbas the murderer, the one the crowd demanded to be set free at the Passover.
Jesus lowered himself - below the best and the worst of the human race. And the culmination of that self-emptying was his death on a Roman torture instrument. That death put an end to ALL death for those who believe. And the wood that was his manger became the wood of his cross.
"Therefore" - Paul says-
(Notice how the word “Therefore” is loaded with anticipation and answers!) "Therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name SO THAT - at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven or on earth or under the earth. AND every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!"
Jesus is first in our lives.
Jesus is the master we answer to, who loves us unto death.
God became a slave so that we could be free:
Free from sin
Free from death
Free to live as his precious sons and daughters.
Christ emptied himself so that we might be filled. Merry Christmas! Amen.