Preached this last night at Carols by Candlelight. (audio here)
Lots of kids (there was a nativity). Readings were Matthew 2:1-12 (the Magi) and Philippians 2:5-11.
I think I managed to say at one point "There was never a time when Jesus and His Father existed." Be assured I'm not a oneness Pentecostal. I meant to say there was never a time when they didn't exist. Hope people understood!
Christmas is weird. Do you ever think how weird Christmas is?
Wise men come from the east to see the Baby Jesus. And what do you do when you see a baby?
You say "A-wooga-booga-booga-booga, who's a beautiful brown eyed boy?" That's what you do when you see a newborn baby. But these wise men - you know what they did? They got flat on their faces in the middle of a stable and worshipped a baby!
Wise men worshipping a baby. WISE men. Dignified men. Important men. Intelligent men. Bowing down to a baby who was wriggling around in a feeding trough. Did you know that's what a manger is?
A manger is a feeding trough that cows and sheep eat out of. I'm sure they cleaned it up as best they could but nonetheless - a tiny baby, wriggling around in a feeding trough, and WISE MEN worshipped!
If you saw me worshipping a newborn baby you would not think that I was wise. You would think that I'd been mulling a little too much wine. And if you lived in bible times you would be shocked. Because in the bible you worship nothing and noone except God Almighty. And these WISE MEN worshipped the baby Jesus.
That's weird right?
Well it get's weirder.
Do you remember in our reading the wise men were coming from the east to find Jesus? And King Herod was worried because they were talking about Jesus as a King. And Herod wanted to find out where Jesus would be born. So they consult the Bible - they go straight to the Old Testament. And, clear as day, the Old Testament prophet Micah said the promised King would be born in Bethlehem.
Here's what the verse said:
2 "But you, Bethlehem... though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
So that's how Herod knew God's King would be born in Bethlehem.
But do you notice how the verse ends? "His origins are from of old, from ancient times."
Micah says that God's promised King is very old. In fact the word there for ancient times is the word for eternity. So the verse is saying, God's promised King who's going to be born in Bethlehem, He is God's eternal King. God and His King Jesus go WAY BACK. And I mean WAY WAY WAY back. Before there were any people or planets or protons - God and His eternal King Jesus existed. And then 700 years after Micah, that Eternal King is born in the little town of Bethlehem. So the Baby in the manger is Ancient - He's from eternity!!! The Baby is ancient!
Is that weird or is that weird? The Baby is ancient! Jesus Christ is not 2000 years old. He is MUCH more ancient than that. He is God's Eternal King. There has never been a time when Jesus did not exist with His Father.
So on that first Christmas, the Baby wriggling in the manger is ancient - an eternal King.
I told you this was weird. But if that's twisted your melon, now I'm going to turn up the weird factor to nuclear.
Because in our second reading for tonight we heard something so weird that it actually makes all of that seem perfectly natural.
In Philippians 2 we get to see the thought-life of the Ancient King Jesus. In Philippians 2 we get to hear what Jesus was thinking long long before Christmas.
Look with me at Philippians 2 from verse 5. The apostle Paul writes:
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
So this is an insight into the attitude of Christ. Do you see that's how it begins in v5 - your attitude should be the same as Christ's attitude. Well what's Christ's attitude? From v6 it tells us. Jesus is in very nature God. He is completely equal to God His Father. But, v6, Jesus makes a consideration. He thinks to Himself. And He thinks - "Just because I'm equal with God, I'm not going to use that to serve myself. I'm going to use that to serve others. And so He chooses to get born. Isn't that amazing?
Who here chose to get born?? You didn't decide to get born. I'm guessing if you had been offered the chance to get born, you'd have taken it. But Jesus is the Ancient Ruler, God's Eternal King - He's been around forever. If He get's born into the human race it's only because He chooses to get born into the human race. And that's what He did - He chose to get born.
But I promise you, if you were in His shoes, you'd never have chosen what He chose. If you were in very nature God, if you were the Eternal King, surrounded by the worship of heaven, in the direct presence of Your Father who you adored with all your heart and had done forever - if you were in Jesus' shoes you would not have chosen what Jesus chose. Because this is how Jesus considered things: Being in very nature God, He chose not to grasp at His privileges or to exploit them. Instead He chose total self-emptying.
Do you see that in v7? It says 'He made Himself nothing'. Literally it says 'He emptied Himself'.
Imagine the most enormous dam you can think of.
Trillions and trillions and trillions of gallons of water, full to overflowing. And then...
... that water pouring down, completely emptying itself.
Jesus chose to completely pour Himself out for the world.
And He poured Himself out in service. He took the very nature of a servant.
So Jesus the Eternal King, chose to be born. Chose to empty Himself in service, He chose to take the form of a servant. And verse 8 says 'He humbled Himself'.
He humbled Himself alright. He left the riches of heaven to become poor. He left the throne to become a servant. He exchanged being Commander in Chief for, v8 becoming obedient - even to death on the cross.
[SLIDE - cross]
You know when you see Jesus in the manger, it's like watching a man falling. Because He's come from the highest heights. And on Christmas morning you see Him heading down. ..... Down, down, down all the way to death.
And all of this happens - the crib and the cross happens - because, v6, Jesus made a decision. He considered His options. He weighed it up. On the one hand He could stay in heaven and hold onto His divine privileges. But Jesus thought No. Because that would not show us the true nature of God. Let me say that again because I think it's quite shocking - Staying on the throne would not show us the true nature of God. The true nature of God is shown by climbing down off the throne, pouring Himself out as a servant, wriggling in the manger and writhing on the cross. That's what shows us the very nature of God! Not grasping but giving. Not exploiting but emptying. Not being served but serving. Not domination but humility.
In the Times yesterday the front page has Robert Mugabe saying "I will never, never surrender. Zimbabwe is mine." The very opposite of how Jesus considered His power. When we think about people in power, they never want to let go of their power. The worst leaders don't - even the best leaders find it very difficult to let go of power. We grasp at it. We cling on. Jesus emptied Himself. They say absolute power corrupts. Well it might corrupt us, but it didn't corrupt Jesus. He used His absolute power to serve. Isn't that incredible?
Neil told a story this morning that I'm going to steal. Imagine if you're slobbing around at home, the place is a tip and you get a knock at the door. You answer the door in your dressing gown and it's only the Queen. Your jaw is on the floor and she walks past you into your home and says, don't get up - I've come to do a spot of cleaning. She takes off her pristine white gloves, puts on the marigolds and starts doing the housework. What would you think?
Well friends, Jesus has come from far greater heights, and He's stooped down to far greater depths. He has served you and me in the most incredible way. That baby in the manger is the Lord of heaven stooping down to serve you.
Which shows us something very important. It shows us that Jesus thinks we're in trouble. He mounts a cosmic rescue mission - because He thinks we need it. Jesus does not stay in heaven and simply call us up. He knows that we can't do it. He knows that we can't go up - He must come down. So that's what Jesus does. He comes from the heights and swoops down to meet us where we are - in the depths. That's how Jesus uses His power, to stoop, to serve, to save.
Isn't that the most wonderful thing in the world, that He would do that for us? God the Father thinks it's the greatest thing ever.
Verse 9, when God the Father sees His Son pouring Himself out in service ...
9 Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.
When God the Father sees His Son poured out as a humble servant and dying a hellish death - THEREFORE He exalts Jesus. Because of the crib and the cross, the Father says "Have the crown." Because the crib and the cross are the true expressions of God's crown.
One day everyone will bow the knee to Jesus, the LORD, and they will do so because He poured out His life to death. And when the Father sees that He says "YES! That IS what it means to be LORD. And He exalts Jesus to His right hand to tell the universe: This Servant is LORD. This is what it means to be in very nature God.
And one day every person who has ever lived will bow before Jesus, the Divine Servant. Whether they love Him or hate Him, EVERYONE will be flattened by the glory of the Servant King.
When He returns one day, still bearing the scars of His crucifixion, we will be overwhelmed. Everyone in this room will bow to Jesus. Whether gladly or reluctantly. Everyone outside this room will bow to Jesus. We won't be able to help ourselves. The power of His Self-Emptying Majesty will force us down on our faces to confess that this - the Most Humble Servant there's ever been - is LORD of all.
Well what do you think of the Wise Men now? Do you understand their worship? Or is it still weird to you? Have you also looked inside the manger and seen the Glory of God?
Maybe even as I've been speaking you have begun to look differently at that Baby. Maybe now for the first time you realise who He is. You realise that He chose to come, chose to serve, chose even to die - and He did it for you. Can you see what the Wise Men saw?
Maybe you've never worshipped Christ the LORD before. That's what a Christian is - someone who worships Christ the LORD. You might have always considered yourself a Christian but you've never worshipped Christ. You've always thought the Wise Men were a bit over the top. You've never, yourself, bent the knee to Jesus. You've never confessed that He is the LORD, He is the One it's all about.
Well maybe tonight you realise: life's not about you, it's about Him. He is worthy of worship. And maybe you've realised God's not aloof. He draws near. And maybe you're feeling Him drawing near. Perhaps in your heart right now you're beginning to worship Jesus. If you are - you're becoming a Christian. Come and talk to me or Neil afterwards, we'd love to help you in you're your first steps as a Christian.
But for all of us - do we see the divine humility of Jesus? This Christmas - rejoice that God really is that good. Don't think dark thoughts about God. Don't wonder whether He loves, whether He cares, whether He's interested. Christmas tells you He loves, He cares, He hears and He comes. This Christmas let us worship Christ the LORD.