At Christmas, we long for fullness. The kind that causes us to loosen our waistbands, and revel in its magic. With stocked refrigerators, full calendars, and tree skirts loaded with presents, we anticipate creating memories that will overflow for years to come. The most wonderful time of the year comes with high expectations and high hopes. As parents, the task is weightier, because our children’s future memories hinge on how well we deliver on Christmas this year. The pressure to fill up on Christmas and make it all that it can be is real. But should fullness be our goal or emptiness?
The story of Jesus’ birth was not one of filling, but of emptying. At some point in his eternal pre-existence, Jesus chose to lay aside his divine rights and privileges and empty himself. That emptying began when he took on the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of man. Yes, Christmas is the perfect time to fill up, but not in the way the world tells us to. Our hearts and minds are filled with wonder and worship as we meditate on this self-emptying Savior.
He emptied himself
In Philippians 2:6-11, we read the glorious, and mysterious words, “he emptied himself.” These five verses, which are beautifully written in the original Greek, comprise a poem that was probably sung by the early church. We call it the Christ Hymn. In this poem, we see the humiliation and the exaltation of the Lord Jesus.
“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.”Philippians 2:6-11
Can you imagine heaven’s throne room, when Jesus laid aside the garments of his divine glory and majesty, and took on the frailty of human flesh? Perhaps for the first time in all eternity, angelic praise fell silent as they looked on in awe.
His kingly robes were exchanged for swaddling clothes, his perfect fellowship with the Father traded for physical distance, and the splendor of heaven replaced with the darkness of a virgin’s womb. The highest of highs traded for the lowest of lows. Only the inhabitants of heaven knew just how far he had condescended at his birth.
At Christmas, we say, “Jesus was born,” but from the angels’ point of view, they say, “Jesus emptied himself.”
The parabolic curve
Jesus’ emptying was a slow pouring out from his incarnation to his crucifixion. The last drop fell as he became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Like a parabolic curve that begins in heaven, descends to the cross, and then dramatically turns and rises again to glory, this is the picture Paul paints in the Christ Hymn.
Jesus, “who was in the form of God,” emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men. He became a servant who learned obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross.
“Therefore,” in verse 9, marks the vertex of the curve, and where his humiliation transforms into his exaltation. Resurrected and ascended, the curve rises straight back into heaven’s throne room, where Jesus, the prince of peace sits exalted. The result of his humiliation and his self-emptying is his forever-glorified position.
God has given him that name above all names, and his fame extends throughout all creation. We anxiously await the yet-to-be-fulfilled portion of the Christ Hymn, when one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess his rightful Lordship.
From the cradle to the cross
The Greek word for ‘he emptied himself’ is ‘kenosis’ which describes a self-emptying act. He did not empty himself of his deity, but willingly set aside some of his divine attributes, so he could also be fully man. There are times he voluntarily restricted his knowledge to be obedient to the Father as illustrated when he said he didn’t know the day or the hour of his return (Mark 13:32). Other times, his omniscience was on full display when he said he saw Nathaniel sitting by a fig tree (John 1:48).
Jesus left the glories of heaven, took on human flesh, and suffered with the same limitations of humanity, yet without sin. We marvel that he, the Maker of all things, took on the form of a servant, bending yet lower to do the tasks of a slave: even washing dirty feet.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.John 13:3-5
From the cradle to the cross, Jesus was wrapped in the symbol of his humility and his self-emptying. At his birth he was wrapped in swaddling clothes; in his service, he was wrapped in a towel to wash the disciples’ feet; and in his death, he was wrapped in a linen shroud, and placed in Joseph’s tomb. Oh, what a gift is this self-emptying Savior!
Life to the fullest
From a Christian’s point of view, Christmas is and should be the most wonderful time of the year. The glitz and the glam of the cultural Christmas around us has nothing on the beauty of the self-emptying Savior who laid aside all his rights and privileges to be born to die.
Every year Christmas presents us with new opportunities to preach the gospel, both to the world and to ourselves. We can enjoy all the season has to offer, but true fullness comes as we meditate on this self-emptying Savior. And in the kindness and generosity of God, he made it so Jesus’ emptiness has become our fullness.
“I came so that they could have life indeed, so they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10, CEB)
May your Christmas be full of Christ,
P.S. Tell me how meditating on the God who emptied himself, fill you this Christmas.
P.P.S. Meditate on the beautiful passage of Isaiah 9:6 in this free 4-part email series, “He Shall be Called.” Sign up to receive the series straight to your inbox today!