The Sacrifice of Christmas
1. The Ugliness of Selfishness
Selfishness is a very ugly part of human nature. It’s expressed by the youngest child in words like “I want”, “it’s mine”, or “I had it first”. Human beings have a fundamental focus on self. We want what will make us happy, often without consideration for others. I would love to say that we grow out of it. But of course, we don’t. Selfishness still often rears its ugly head in our lives.
- We can be selfish as individuals: Focussed on our work instead of our family. Focussed on our leisure instead of helping others.
- We can be selfish as families: Focussed on what is good for our family, instead of how we can serve others as a family.
- We can even be selfish as a church: Putting all our energies into growing our church, instead of growing the Kingdom.
Selfishness is the poison that divides and destroys all our relationships. It’s what the Bible calls sin: a little ‘s’, a little ‘n’ and a big ‘I’ in the center. Sin is all about living for me.
But Christians are called to be very different. Not selfish, but selfless. Not self-serving, but sacrificial. At Christmas, Jesus provides the perfect example of humble service.
2. The Sacrifice of Christmas
The great “sacrifice of Christmas” teaches us what it looks like to embrace a life of humble service. The Apostle Paul writes:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.Philippians 2:5-7
Christians are commanded to embrace the same mindset that Jesus showed at Christmas: an attitude of humble service. Paul reminds us that the Christmas story doesn’t begin with the baby in the manger. For all eternity, Jesus was in the form of God. He was equal to God, fully divine, forever in perfect relationship with his Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
But Paul reminds us: Jesus did not cling to his glory and comfort. That first Christmas Jesus chose to serve us not himself. He emptied himself and took on human flesh. He traded his heavenly throne for a dirty manger. He traded the worship of angels, for a life for suffering. He traded his glory for shame. The King of the universe made himself a servant.
Jesus humble service didn’t end with his birth. Paul reminds us that the whole reason Jesus was born as man was so that he might die for us on the cross:
8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:8
The cross was so horrible that it was not even to be spoken of by Roman citizens. Crucifixion was a torture reserved only for the worst of criminals. But on the cross, Jesus was willingly abandoned, broken, and cursed for us. Jesus served us in the greatest of possible ways. On the cross, he took upon himself the punishment we deserve for our selfish rebellion. He faced God’s anger in our place. He died so that we might have eternal life. He did it all for God’s glory: “not my will but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). It was the ultimate example of humble service.
Christianity is totally unlike all other religions. In all other religions, you reach up to God. You serve him. But Christians believe in the God who came down to serve us. At the very heart of God’s nature is humble, sacrificial, self-giving love. Christmas is good news because of Easter. We celebrate Jesus’ birth as a man, because he came to lay down his life for us on the cross.
3. Embracing a Life of Humble Service
Jesus leaves us with the ultimate example of humble service. As we consider the sacrificial love of Christ shown in his incarnation and death, we too are called to embrace a life of humble service. Paul writes:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in JesusPhilippians 2:3-5
We are called to embrace the same self-sacrificing attitude as Jesus. We are called to humble ourselves for the good of others, just as Jesus did for us. We are called to put aside our selfishness to live in humble service, putting the interests of others before our own. Christmas is not just meant to be a wonderful celebration, an excuse for food and friendship. It’s meant to be utterly life transforming: the end of a selfish life.
Up until the 16th century, people had thought the earth was the centre of the universe and the sun and all the stars revolved around it. But then it was shown that actually it was not the earth at the centre, but the sun. The earth revolved around the sun. It was called the Copernican revolution and we need to have our own one. We need to realise that life is not about me, but about Jesus and his gospel. Life is not about selfishly seeking my own needs. It’s about denying them for the sake of others.
What does such a life of humble service look like?
- Humble service is when you are introverted, but you push yourself to welcome a new person at church.
- Humble service is when you get out of bed at 3am to change the diaper, so your spouse can rest.
- Humble service is when you get home tired from work, but still decide to cook dinner and wash up.
- Humble service is taking time to listen and care for someone who needs support.
- Humble service is using your time and money to benefit other churches and not your own.
- Humble service is about putting others first. It’s when we stop thinking – “what is in it for me”, and start thinking, “what can I do for you?”.
The gospel transforms our hearts so that we serve Jesus first, then others, and put myself last.
It may sound difficult. The world may call you a fool. But the gospel tells us that a life humble service will be worth it. Because Jesus didn’t stay dead on the cross. Paul reminds that God who exalts the humble.
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11
The Bible is saying that it was because Jesus was willing to humble himself to the cross that God exalted him as Lord of all. One day, whether willingly or unwillingly, all of us will be forced to acknowledge Jesus rightful rule over our lives, to the glory of the Father.
Thus, eternity gives us the right perspective on life. If death is not the end, then humble service is the only logical way to live. Because one day God will destroy the proud and exalt the humble. Just as God exalted humble Jesus, so will he raise up those who follow in his footsteps.
So this Christmas, will you trust in the sacrifice of Jesus to pay for your sins? And in response, will you focus on others instead of yourself. Will you be selfless instead of selfish?
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Originally from Australia, Tim Nicholls came to know Christ as a child, before maturing in his faith during his university years. Tim now lives in Malaysia and serves as a Pastor at St George’s Anglican Church in Georgetown, Penang. Tim is married to Siew Mun and they have four children. Tim loves Malaysian food, the hot tropical weather, and is learning to speak BM and Mandarin! But most of all he loves Jesus, and is passionate about seeing people from all nations and all stages of life come to know Christ as their Lord and Saviour and joyfully live for his glory.
How should we respond to Christmas? The Bible’s answer may be summed up by the word “worship.” One key word for “worship” in the New Testament refers to “the act of prostration in homage or reverence”. This act of service or devotion is rendered by rational creatures to God alone. But how should we view this exhortation in light of the Christmas season? How has Christmas added to our understanding of the worship of God?
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