Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Paul and the Nativity: Part One

There is a line in a Graham Kendrick song which says...
...if you keep him in the manger,
then there is no danger
from the Christmas child.
Herod, of course, did not fear the child in the manger but the man he would become. To yield up the throne is the most difficult thing ever asked of human beings and ultimately, at some point in life, we will be faced with the age-old challenge; do we crown him or crucify him? There are no alternatives to this stark choice.

As we move from the Gospels to the Letters we discover that the writers are not apparently interested in the kind of events that are recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As historians their task was mainly along the lines of 'what has happened'. The early Christians had many faithful witnesses to 'what has happened', questions they now faced were those answered in the Letters; 'why did these things happen? and what are the lasting implications.

Paul seems to have little to say about angel visitors, wise men and shepherds; that is not his brief. He knows those records but his task is to ask 'what does it all mean?' This is Part One of Paul's Nativity teaching.
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:4–11 NKJV
That thrilling passage of Scripture is a mixture of amazing choices and amazing consequences. Paul has gone behind and beyond the story of the Nativity; he telling us 'why is all happened'. It is thrilling to identify the choices that the Son of God made and the consequential things that 'happened to him'.

First something he refused to do; he refused to his equality in the godhead as a prize to be snatched for. Being in the form of God he refused to claim his rights then he 'emptied himself'. There are important historical theological reasons why translators don't usually translate that as 'emptied' but 'emptied himself' and 'made himself of no reputation' are both legitimate translations; with either translation the point is that he performed the actions himself, it did not 'happen' to him but was an action that he took.

The list continues; he himself took on the form of a bond-servant. This was not an inevitable consequence on incarnation, this is part of the reason for the incarnation. This was his choice to come into our world as a bond-servant. It continues, he humbled himself; he was not 'humbled by the incarnation', the incarnation was the consequence of his self-humbling.

Down, down he comes from the highest to the lowest; from godhead to bondservant. He chooses to humble himself and chooses to be obedient to the death, and not just any death but 'the death of the cross'; the kind of execution that bond-servant, non-persons were subjected to under Roman law. In a few masterful strokes Paul maps the journey from heaven's throne, through Bethlehem's stable and Calvary's hill and back to heaven's throne again. It is breathtaking.

His current reign demands a response. Like Herod we may refuse his reign or like the wise men and the shepherds we may bow at his feet. Not the feet of a child in a cattle trough but at the feet of the one whose reign will know no end. We have tracked his choices, now he is tracking yours.

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