Helen is Training and Mentoring Director at London City Mission, which serves the London churches in sharing the good news of Jesus. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with friends and various assortments of animals (from dolphins to cats to molluscs), and is contemplating taking up extreme ironing.
Christmas is often a time of fullness. Our diaries burst with festive events: Christmas socials and family get-togethers abound. Each person’s to-do list seems to double at least: there are presents to buy, cards to write and a sharp upturn in opportunities to serve. (When else do we attempt to buy our own body-weight in dolly mixtures for the Christingle service to come?) Our stomachs are no less replete as an endless supply of mince pies and other delights are passed around.
For Jesus, though, Christmas was a time of emptiness. At his incarnation, he gave up the glories of heaven to come down to earth. As Philippians 2 reminds, “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (v7). Born in a crowded city, to a mother unable to find a place in an inn, the King of Creation was laid in a wooden box. Supreme sovereignty was wrapped in swaddling under the light of a star as Herod plotted his demise. Of course, his sacrifice didn’t stop there. Christmas was just the start of his incarnation plan. His mission was one of obedience – to humble himself to the point of death (v8). Through his work on the cross and his resurrection power, he made it possible for people to know the most wonderful news: that Jesus is Lord and deserves our all (v9-11).
For Paul, the Christmas story was a spur to faith (v12-13). He knew beyond any shadow of doubt that as believers dwell on the wonder of the Saviour who emptied himself for us, the right response is for us to prioritise him, and our walk with him, above all else. Whatever our education, our experience or our profession, nothing comes close to the importance of holiness (v14-15), witness (v15) and faithful perseverance (v16). We live in just as much of a “warped and crooked” generation as Paul – the call for us to shine like lights is equally as strong. But this is no easy task. For Paul, it meant being “poured out like a drink offering” (v17). He left his job, his status, his network of friends to follow Christ. He set aside ease in favour of persecution – wealth in favour of poverty. He emptied himself of all the conveniences of life in order to make disciples of God’s people. And in the process he found a fullness that no amount of Christmas fayre can provide. It was in his total, sacrificial obedience that he found true, lasting and contagious joy (v17-18).
Are we going to be content with full diaries, full stomachs and full to-do lists or, like Paul, do we yearn for something more?
So what about us? How can Jesus emptying himself impact us afresh this Christmas-time? Maybe one possibility is to ask ourselves what kind of “full” we want to be. Are we going to be content with full diaries, full stomachs and full to-do lists or, like Paul, do we yearn for something more? Do we increasingly long to set aside all the things the world tells us we “need” and instead want to revel in Jesus’ word, transform into his likeness, persevere in his call, shine in this dark world and in the process find a fullness that’s beyond compare? Maybe doing so would shape our Christmas ministry rather differently this festive time. Maybe it would galvanise you to take the plunge and explore full time ministry for the first time in the year to come. It is our call to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (v12-13). Why not grab another mince pie and pray about that now?