Christmas Eve, 2014
Pastor Joe Wittwer
You’ve heard two passages from the Bible: the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke, and you just heard Philippians 2:4-11. In that passage, the apostle Paul appeals to the Christians in Philippi to be humble and put others before themselves. Then he points to the example of Jesus, who is God, yet made Himself nothing and became a man. And of course, that is what we celebrate at Christmas. God came to earth; God became man. Jesus became less, so that we might become more in Him.
Christmas is not about getting more, but becoming less.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas gifts. I’m looking forward to Christmas morning! How many of you open gifts on Christmas morning—when all true Christians open their gifts? I’m looking forward to Christmas morning as much as anyone. We’ll have our kids and grandkids over and it will be a blast to watch the little ones. I love it! Party on!
But I think we all know that Christmas is ultimately not about the gifts we give or receive from each other. It’s about the gift God gave us in His Son that first Christmas. And the Bible says that in giving that gift, when Jesus came, He became less. He emptied Himself; He made Himself nothing. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Christmas isn’t about getting more, but becoming less. Jesus emptied Himself for us and calls us to follow His example.
Let’s unpack it.
1. Jesus became less for us.
We believe that first Christmas, God came to earth as a baby, as one of us. God became a man. We call it the incarnation, which literally means “in flesh”. God in the flesh, or as I like to say, “God in a bod.”
In Philippians 2, Paul describes this great condescension. We usually use this word negatively. When we say someone is condescending, we mean that they are acting like snobs and treating others as if they were beneath them. But the word simply means, “to come down with someone.”
ILL: When you talk with child, you may get down on one knee so you can look the child in the eye. You condescend; you come down to their level to be with them.
ILL: Good teachers match their content and style to the capability of their audience. You teach the same idea differently to kindergartners than you do to grad students.
There is nothing snobbish in either of these examples of condescension; you are coming down to be with someone. This is what God did for us in the coming of Jesus. God came down to be with us. God came down to become one of us.
Psalm 18:35 You stoop down to make me great.
The New American Standard has a footnote that says “your condescension” has made me great. God stooped down for us.
And to do this, Paul says that Jesus emptied himself—He made himself nothing. Theologians have thought and written about this great mystery for centuries. We’ll only scratch the surface in the next few minutes as we think about Jesus emptying Himself. Paul describes Jesus becoming less in a series of steps down.
Jesus was “in very nature God.” Simply put, He was fully God—that is His fundamental nature. And yet He made Himself nothing; He emptied Himself and became a man. This is the first step down: from God to man—and this is the big one. C. S. Lewis said that God becoming man to save us would be similar to a human becoming a slug to save slugs. It’s a huge drop from humanity to sluggery! It’s an even bigger drop from God to man. God stooped down to save us. God emptied Himself to become a man. This is the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus was fully human, yet still fully God. Whatever the emptying was, He was still God. Paul says it another way in:
2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Jesus became less so you could become more. Jesus emptied Himself so you could be filled. Jesus became poor so you could become rich. He’s not talking about money. He’s talking about true riches, the real riches of life. Jesus emptied Himself to fill you up!
ILL: In the Philippines, thousands of people live at the Manila dump. They’ve constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people’s garbage, so they can eat. People have been born and grown up there on the garbage dump. They have lived out their lives and died there without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing.
But some Americans also live on the garbage dump. They are missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave their own country and communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing to me—that people would leave what we have to go and live on a garbage dump. That is the rich becoming poor to make the poor rich. That is emptying yourself.
As amazing as that is, it pales compared to what Jesus did. The difference from Spokane to Manila is nothing like the difference from heaven to earth. Jesus knew what he was doing and where He was going. And He knew what it would cost Him, and He did it anyway.
God stooped to earth as a man. Even more remarkably, He came as a baby. This baby was Almighty God! Want a mind-bender? Try to imagine what it was like for God to be a baby! I can imagine the grown-up Jesus thinking God’s thoughts and doing God’s work, but how did He do the baby deal? Jesus was fully God as a baby, and fully God as a toddler, and fully God as a teenager, and fully God as an adult. It’s one thing to stoop to be a human, but it’s a bigger stoop to come as a baby. He was helpless, completely dependent upon a teenage mother. He emptied Himself.
From God to man, and then emptied Himself even further to become a servant. Jesus, who “was in very nature God” took “the very nature of a servant.” The word “nature” is the Greek word, morphē, which describes the essential nature of something which never changes. Just like Jesus was truly God, He was also truly a servant. He took on the nature of a servant; He had a servant’s heart. He lived for others, not himself. And the Greek word for servant is doulos, the word for a slave who lived to serve others. Here is another step in becoming less. Almighty God, who deserves to be served by us, became a slave for us.
From God to man to servant, and then He emptied Himself even more: he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross. What was different about death on a cross? First, it was a cruel and painful death. Usually it took several days for a crucified man to die—days of slow agonizing torture.
But more importantly, it was a shameful death. It was the way criminals were executed. This wasn’t a hero’s death or even a martyr’s death. Crucifixion was reserved for criminals. This was a shameful death.
This was the death that Jesus chose when He said “yes” to God, when He obeyed His Father’s call. Jesus humbled himself and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. This is the bottom rung on the ladder of self-emptying. From God to man to servant to shameful death—Jesus came all the way down for us. He emptied Himself completely for us.
He emptied Himself for you. Because He loves you, He was willing to do whatever it took to reach you.
ILL: Henry Carter is a pastor whose church had a home for emotionally disturbed children attached to it. He was working hard in his office on his Christmas sermon when the house mother interrupted him—another crisis upstairs. Christmas Eve was a difficult day for many of the children; those who didn’t go home reacted to the empty beds and the changed routine. This time it was Tommy. He had crawled under a bed and refused to come out.
Not a hair or toe showed beneath the bed. Henry stood beside the bed and tried to talk Tommy out, telling him about the brightly lit tree in the church and all the packages underneath it. No answer.
Henry dropped to his hands and knees and lifted the bedspread. Two enormous blue eyes looked back at him. Tommy was 8 but looked like a 5-year-old. It would have been no effort at all to simply pull him out.
But pulling wasn’t what Tommy needed. So crouched there on all fours, Henry launched into the menu of the special Christmas Eve dinner. He told Tommy about the stocking with his name on it. Nothing but silence. Tommy didn’t budge.
Finally, because he could think of no other way to make contact, Henry got down on his stomach and wriggled in beside Tommy, snagging his suit coat on the bedsprings. For what seemed like a long time, he lay there with his cheek pressed against the floor. Then he talked about the big wreath above the altar, and the candles in all the windows. He reminded Tommy of the carol he and the other children were going to sing. When he ran out of things to say, Henry simply waited there beside him, under the bed.
And as he waited, a small, chilled hand crept into his.
“You know Tommy,” he said after awhile, “it’s kind of cramped under here. Let’s you and me go out where we can stand up.” And so they did, but slowly, in no hurry.
Henry wrote, “All the pressures had gone from my day, because Tommy had given me my Christmas sermon. Flattened there on the floor I had been given a new glimpse of the mystery of the season.
Hadn’t God called us too, as I’d called Tommy, from far above us? With His stars and mountains, His whole majestic creation, hadn’t He pleaded with us to love Him?
And when we wouldn’t listen, He had drawn closer; through prophets and lawgivers and holy men, He spoke to us.
But it was not until that first Christmas, when God He stooped to earth itself, when He took our place and came to dwell with us in our loneliness, that we, like Tommy, dared to stretch out our hands to take hold of love.”
Why did God to stoop to earth, empty Himself and become one of us? Because it was the only way to reach you. Love made Him do it. Love reached that far.
From God to man to servant to the cross…Jesus emptied Himself…for you. He became less so you could become more.
3. We are to become less for others.
I know you’re thinking, “Wait! You skipped #2!” I did, and I’m coming back to it. Thanks for noticing!
Jesus emptied Himself for us, and we are called to empty ourselves for others. That’s Paul’s point in Philippians 2; he calls us to imitate Jesus:
Philippians 2:5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
And then he describes His becoming less.
Do you ever wish you were less selfish? More others’ centered? More humble? Let’s see the hands of all the humble people. I’m humble and proud of it! Paul calls us to be more like Jesus: humble, serving others, emptying ourselves.
We are going to explore this for the next five Sundays. We’ll look at some stories from the gospels, the example and teaching of Jesus, and we’re going to think about what it means to become more like Jesus and become less for the sake of others. Each week, we’ll give you a passage of Scripture and ask you to read it every day, and pray a simple prayer: “Lord, make this true in me today.” I believe that as you engage with Scripture, the Holy Spirit will work in your life and you’ll become more like Jesus, and become less for the sake of others.
Since we’re going to unpack this in depth the next five weeks, I won’t spend more time on it now. We are called to become more like Jesus and become less for others.
Ok, so what about #2. Before we can empty ourselves for others, we must empty ourselves for God.
2. We must make room for Jesus.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare Him room.” That’s what I want you to do. Make room for Jesus.
When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they sought shelter at the local inn, but “there was no room for them in the inn.” Caesar’s census had sent people packing to their hometowns, so the inn was full of travelers just like Joseph and Mary. There was no room for them in the inn, so Jesus was born in a stable; his cradle was a feeding trough and his nursery mates had four legs.
I can identify with the innkeeper, can’t you? It was his busy season. The inn was overflowing with guests, and he was going a hundred miles an hour. What could he do? Full is full. There was just no room. There was one possibility that probably never crossed his mind, and it’s in one of my all time favorite Christmas stories.
Trouble at the Inn, by Dina Donahue
Wally Purling was 9 that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.
Most often they’d find a way to keep him out but Wally would hang around anyway–not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would be Wally who’d say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wally Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander on stage before his cue.
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
“We seek lodging.”
“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously, “The inn is filled.”
“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”
“There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.
“Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”
Now, for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from the wings.
“No.” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper, however, did not return inside his inn. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
And suddenly, this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room!”
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others–many, many others–who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
Let every heart prepare Him room. Wally did. I want you to as well. How do you do that? How do you make room for Jesus?
First, simply make room in your heart for Him. Invite Him to come in, to live in you, to be at home in your life. There’s a little song I learned as a new Christian:
Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Jesus comes where He’s welcomed; whenever someone makes room, Jesus comes in. And when Jesus comes in, everything changes.
Ephesians 3:17–19 I pray that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
I want you to be filled—filled with love, filled with life, filled with God. And it starts here: I pray that Christ may live in you. Make room for Jesus.
Second, make room in your life for Him. Make room in your busy schedule. You can be as close to God as you want to be. James said,
James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
You can be as close to God as you want to be. Make room for Him in your life.
I told you that for the next five weeks, we’re going to talk about becoming less, emptying ourselves for others. Here’s my challenge for you: Why don’t you come every Sunday for the next 5 Sundays? Make room for Jesus, and see what He does in your life. The average American Christian comes to church 1-2 times a month; many of you come less than that. You can be as close to God as you want to be. It’s up to you—make room for Jesus. Friends, I know that sitting in church won’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in your garage makes you a car. But if you come to meet with Him, to draw near to Him, you will make room for Jesus, and He will fill whatever you give Him. Make room for Jesus and see what He does.
Each week, we’ll give you a passage of Scripture, and we want you to read it every day that week. Those moments each day, when you read Scripture and pray, “Lord, make this true in me today,” you’ll make room for Jesus.
There’s my challenge to you: come every Sunday for five weeks, read the Scripture each day and see what God does in your life. Make room for Jesus. Whatever you give Him, He will fill. You can be as close to God as you want to be.
Before we pray, Cami is going to sing. This song is Mary’s prayer after the angel tells her that she is going to give birth to God’s Son. It’s a beautiful prayer, and as Cami sings it, I hope you’ll make it your prayer and make room for Jesus.
Song: Be Born in me
I love the lyric that said, “The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy.” Have you got a vacancy? Is there room in your heart for Jesus tonight?
Prayer and invitation
New Believer packets
Candlelighting and Silent Night