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Series:  The Challenge of Christmas - Part One

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 3, 2006

There was a lady who had a circle of friends that she really wanted to buy Christmas presents for.  But, she had been so busy with stuff for the family - thins at work - that time had slipped away - she just wasn’t able to get to the store to buy any gifts.

Time was running out.  So not too many days before Christmas she decided to give up on the gift idea and just buy everybody the same Christmas card.

She went to the local gift store and hurriedly went through the now picked over stack of cards and found a box of fifty - just exactly what she wanted.  She really didn’t take time to read the message.  But, she did notice the beautiful cover - a manger scene with angels and a star and a gold border around it all.  She thought,
“That’s perfect.”  So she signed all of them, “With all my love.”  And sent them off to her friends.

As New Year’s came she had time to go back and look at the two or three cards she had left over from that stack.  She finally read the message inside.  It said, in a little rhyme,
“This Christmas card is just to say, a little gift is on its way.” (1)

This morning we’re starting a new sermon series entitled “The Challenge Of Christmas.”  Do you ever feel like Christmas is a challenge?  C
hristmas often seems like a race to the finish line.  Do you ever feel that?  There are 22 more shopping days ‘til Christmas.  Along the way we’re suppose to be enjoying ourselves - eat a lot - have warm fuzzy feelings - take time to celebrate Jesus’ birth - all the church stuff.  So many of us feel that - like outside were supposed to be one way - and inside we’re tired - rushed - empty - and trying to keep our feelings in check. 

Let me share some of why this series, “The Challenge of Christmas,” is important for us.

No where in Scripture are we asked or instructed to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  When He was born it was a time of worship and celebration - the angels for example.  But the early church didn’t continue to celebrate His birth.  Its just not in Scripture.

Jesus was not born on December 25th or January 6th or January 18th - dates that different branches of Christianity celebrate His birth.  The Shepherds were out in the fields - not keeping their sheep in pens.  Which means that the weather was warm enough to be out in the fields.  It wasn’t winter.  Bottom line - we have no idea when Jesus was born.

The point of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ birth - where He was to be born and how - the point of the prophecies are to identify Jesus as the Messiah.  To distinguish Him from all the other babies born since Cain.  The date isn’t the important point.  Who He is - is.

Christmas - or literally the “Christ Mass” - first gets mentioned in 336 AD. when the Romans tied celebrating Jesus’ birth to pagan festivals honoring Saturn and Mithras.  The Reformation Church looked at Christmas as a pagan celebration because of its non-Christian customs.  In the 1600’s - in England and parts of the American colonies celebrating Christmas was illegal.

Today the celebration of Deity Incarnate has become “X”mas.  X is the Greek letter “chi” - the first letter in “Christos” - Christ.  But - X in math is an unknown.

We send cards to people who may or may not send us cards just in case they do.  We try to keep up with buying gifts for people who give us gifts - spending huge sums of money for stuff nobody wants or needs - money that could reach thousands with the news of Jesus’ salvation.

As we celebrate the holiday season - Christmas as a religious tradition among others - Kwanzaa - Hanukah.  The “Christmas Story” is placed alongside other Christmas Stories - Rudolph and Frosty - “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  We’re told that,
“The magic of Christmas lies in your heart.”

The true account of Nicholas - Bishop of Myra - defender of our faith - is lost in the economic engine that is Santa Clause.

We celebrate at family gatherings - celebrating God’s love by stuffing ourselves with food that could feed starving countries.

We get so wrapped up in all this.  So many Christians are just going along with the routine.  Like shepherds out in a dark and lonely field - in the midst of everything that we’re suppose to joyously take part in - is anyone thinking that X is Jesus - God Incarnate?

There is value to our traditions.  But, we may be missing something profound that God may want to show us - or do in us - or through us.  The purpose of this series is to consider the implications of the incarnation for our lives.  How should we live knowing that God has come to us?

Philippians 2 - starting at verse 5.  What Paul writes in these verses to the Philippian Church are a description of the incarnation of Jesus that has profound implications for our lives.  You’ll find these verses on your Sermon Notes.  We’ll read them out loud together and then go back and make some observations:  Verse 5: 
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

First observation - notice with me
The Description of Jesus - verse 6.

“Jesus existed in the form of God.” 
Every word here is carefully chosen - crucially important.

If you’ve ever had those really nice people come to your door who want to discuss their beliefs with you - or you’ve gotten into a discussion about what you believe - these few words here are crucial.  They’re at the core of what we believe as Christians.

The First Church of Christ - coma - Scientist teaches that Jesus was the offspring of Mary’s self-conscious communion with God.  Christ is the divine idea.  Jesus is the human man.

The JW’s - Jehovah’s Witnesses - say that Jesus is the Archangel Michael who is now Jesus Christ.  In other words Jesus is a creation of God.

The Mormons say that Jesus was among the spirit children of Elohim who by obedience and devotion attained to the pinnacle of intelligence which ranked Him as a god.

The Unification Church says of Jesus,
“In light of His attained deity He may well be called God.  Never the less, He can by no means be called God Himself.”

Three words we must understand.

First:  “Existed”  It’s the Greek word “uparchon.”  It has the idea of something existing without emphasizing when it exists - existence - without beginning or ending.  Prior to creation - everything that exists now - prior to all that Jesus exists.  He is existing.  He will always continue to exist.

Second word:  “Form.”  The Greek word is “morphe.”  If you were to look at the person next to you - go ahead and do that.  Maybe a quick sideways glance.  We notice things about someone’s outward appearance - nose - hair - glasses - a little pudgy around the waist.  That’s outward stuff.  But when we think about someone - we often think much deeper than that - right?  Character - attitudes - morals.  It’s the inner stuff that really makes up who a person is.  That’s “morphe” - the deeper essence and nature of who a person is.

Putting those two words together - existed and form:  Jesus has always existed totally - completely - fully - with the same essence and nature as God.  Point being, Jesus is the God.  Not a god.  But, the God.

That’s huge.  Isn’t it?   Jesus is the God.  Say that with me,
“Jesus is the God.”

Third word - verse 6 - Jesus
“did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”  The word “grasped” is the Greek word “arpagmon.”  The King James Version translates this robbery.  Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”

You know those card readers they’ve got just about every place - at check out counters?  You know what I’m talking about?  After the clerk scans all the stuff we’re buying and it gets totaled up we’re suppose to swipe our credit card or debit card through that little card reader.  I’ve always thought the wording of that was really strange. 
“Swipe your card.”  Why would I want to swipe my card.  Its my card.  Why should I steal something that already belongs to me?

Jesus can’t rob God of being equal to God because as God He’s already equal to God because He is God.  All the divine attributes - the nature and essence of God - all the stuff that makes God - God - Jesus already possesses.

Turn with me over to Colossians 1:15-17.  Think with me about Who Jesus is - trying to get a glimpse of the big picture. 
Colossians 1:15-17 - Paul describes Jesus this way:  He - Jesus - is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

When the angel Gabriel told Mary she was going to have a baby Mary asked,
“How?” Gabriel tells her, “It’s going to be the work of the Holy Spirit.  The baby born of you will be utterly holy - the Son of God.”  (Luke 1:34,35)

Mary is not the mother of God.  She’s the chosen vessel through whom God enters into our world as human flesh and blood.  The invisible made visible in the flesh - God incarnate.

The Bible tells us that God is invisible.  That means that God doesn’t have a physical body like we do. 
He has a mind, emotions and a will - but not a body.  God is a spirit.  (John 4:24)  Spirits dont have flesh and blood.  But Jesus does.  (Luke 24:39)

Lord Byron once said,
“If God is not like Jesus Christ, then God ought to be like Jesus Christ.”  To see Jesus is to see God.  Jesus is the visible expression - the very image - of the invisible God.

Going on - Colossians 1:15:  [Jesus] is
“the firstborn of all creation” - He’s the head of God’s household - first in rank - above all of creation.

erse 16 - for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones of dominions or rulers or authorities - did Paul leave anything out? No - all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Walk with me through the scope of what’s being said here.

Jesus is the
source of creation.  Imagine that.  The material universe:  stars, galaxies, planets, solar systems, trees, grass, mountains, seas.

And not just the visible - but the invisible:  Jesus created electricity - radiation - magnetism - the atoms and the basic stuff that holds everything together.

And not just forces and things - Jesus created concepts and attitudes:  grace, mercy, truth, love
, the essence of life itself.  All that exists - has come into being because Jesus was motivated to create it.

erse 16 says that all things were created by Jesus - Hes the architect and the builder of everything that is.

erse 16 says the goal - the point of all that exists - the goal of creation is “for Him.”  All of this operates for Him.  A few decades ago Albert Einstein said that space is not a linear concept - extending outward in a straight line - but space is curved in on itself - joining again with itself.

Creation originated within Jesus - and converges again towards Him.  He is the reason why all things have been made.  Eventually all of the cosmos and all the events of history will find their place in the great purpose of the Father to honor and glorify Jesus.

Then in
verse 17 Paul writes that, “He is before all things - Jesus existed before creation - and in Him all things hold together.”  Paul writes that it is Jesus who holds all things together.  He is the preserver - the sustainer - of creation.

Years ago I took a tour of the linear accelerator
over at Stanford University.  Maybe you’ve seen that long building that runs under 280 over by Palo Alto.  If I understand what they do there - under that long building is a long tube that the scientist send particles of matter through - accelerating them to pretty close to the speed of light - and then they shoot these particles into different types of materials to see what happens.  Basically they’re trying to smash atoms and sub-atomic matter apart.

To do that takes a tremendous amount of power - enough power to run the
cities of Modesto, Turlock, Merced, Atwater, even Planada - and have power left over.  Something holds the atom together with enormous - incredible power.  That power - according to the Bible - is vested in Jesus.  He has the power to sustain creation.

First observation - the description of Jesus.  Jesus is the God.  Together,
“Jesus is the God.”

Second observation: 
The Description of What Jesus Did.  At the end of verse 6, Paul writes that all that existence - form - equality Jesus did not regard as something to be grasped - held on to.  Then in verse 7 Paul writes that Jesus emptied Himself.  Say that with me, “Jesus emptied Himself.”

The word “emptied” is the Greek word “kenosis.”  The meaning of that one word is essential to our faith - crucial to understand.  Say it with me
“kenosis.”  Kenosis is the description of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

If I take my coat off - and put it here on this chair - have I changed?  No.  I’m still the same person.  A little colder maybe.  But the same person.  Has my coat changed?  Same coat.  I’ve set aside my right to use it to keep myself warm.  But, its still my coat - my possession.  And it is my right to pick it up and wear it again any time I please.  I’ve just chosen to take it off.  That’s kenosis. 

Imagine with me that my coat represents all of my rights and prerogatives and powers as God.  I realize that’s a stretch.  But, hang in there.  All those “Omni's” - omnipresence - omnipotence - omniscience - those impossible things to understand that make God uniquely God - my coat represents my rights and prerogatives to exercise those divine attributes.

Follow me - Jesus voluntarily choose to set those aside.  Took them off.  He emptied Himself.  Be careful.  When Jesus took off His coat - set aside His prerogatives as God - did He change?  No.  God does not cease to be God.  Are the prerogatives still His?  Yes.  At the incarnation - Jesus is fully God - with all the rights and prerogatives of God - Jesus voluntarily set aside.

Then Paul writes - verse 7, when Jesus emptied Himself He took on the form - “mophe” - of a servant - took on all the inner stuff that makes a servant a servant -
“being made in the likeness of men.”

“Being made” is the Greek word “lambano” - which has the idea of - putting something on - adding something to what we already have.  “Likeness” is the word “omoiomati.”  It has the idea of similarity.  But not exactly the same thing.  There are differences.

Putting all that together - at the same time Jesus was taking off His Godly prerogatives - He was putting on humanity.  He took on all of what makes us human - but, there are some differences.  Jesus does not have the same sin nature we do or the death penalty for sin hanging over His head - at birth, He’s free of all that.  But Jesus - fully God - is fully human.

Remember back to Thanksgiving Day, 2003?  President George W. Bush paying a surprise visit to Iraq to thank the troops - the President serving Thanksgiving dinner to 600 stunned soldiers in a mess hall at the Baghdad airport.

Commenting on his visit, President Bush said, “
It’s got to be lonely for them.  I thought it was important to send the message that we care for them.”

Captain Tyson Daniels emailed his reaction to his wife.  Quote: 
“When he stepped up to the cheering, I could clearly see tears running down his cheeks.  It was the most surreal moment I’ve had in years…  Here was this man, our President, come all the way around the world, spending 17 hours on an airplane and landing in the most dangerous airport in the world… just to spend two hours with his troops…  It was a great moment, and I will never forget it.” (2) 

Paul’s describes “kenosis” as the Almighty God becoming a bond-servant - a slave.

In the Roman world s
laves were the possessions of their masters - looked on with the same regard as a shovel or hammer - a tool to be used.  Jesus should have been worshipped - adored by people - angels - animals - served by all of creation.  Yet, Jesus set all that aside to serve.

Having become a man - Jesus didn
t come as a king - a ruler or a rich person - someone insulated from the worst parts of our human condition.  He became the son of a common family - in a conquered nation - born in the humility of a stable.  In humility He came and embraced us as brothers and sisters - without any advantage over us - facing life as we face life.

If all that is a little hard for us to get our minds around we’re in good company.  How does the eternal Creator God take on His creation’s humanity?  Grab the bottom line:  He did.  Praise God.

There are a number of places we could go with this - thinking about the implications of the incarnation for our lives.  Let me suggest one.  One word:  Attitude.  Say that with me,
“Attitude.”  Say that to the person next to you, “You gotta have attitude.”

Dr. Samuel Weinstein is the chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery for Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.  In May of this year, he traveled to El Salvador with Heart Care International in order to provide life-saving operations for needy children. 

One surgery stands out among many.  Dr. Weinstein and his team began operating on eight year old Francisco Calderon Anthony Fernandez's heart shortly before noon.  Twelve hours later the procedure took a deadly turn.  Dr. Weinstein said this: 
“The surgery had been going well, everything was working great, but he was bleeding a lot and they didn’t have a lot of the medicines we would use to stop the bleeding.  After a while, they said they couldn’t give him blood because they were running out and he had a rare type.”

In fact, Francisco’s blood type was B-negative, which I understand only about 2% of people have.

As it was, the only other person in the room with B-negative blood was Dr. Weinstein.  Knowing what he had to do, he stepped down from the operating table.  As his colleagues continue their precision work, Dr. Weinstein set aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, and began washing his hands and forearm.  Then, in the corner of the unfamiliar operating room, the prestigious doctor from one of the most advanced hospitals in the world sat down to give away his own blood.

When he had given a pint, Dr. Weinstein drank some bottled water - ate a Pop-Tart - then - 20 minutes after stepping away from the table - he rejoined his colleagues.  After watching his own blood begin circulating into the boy’s small veins, Dr. Weinstein completed the operation that saved Francisco’s heart - and his life. (3)

In verse 5, Paul writes,
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

The word “attitude” - I know, one more Greek word.  Last one - hang in there.  “Attitude” is the Greek word “phroneite.”  It means to understand something - to think about it - contemplate it - at the depths of who we are.  Deep meditative thought.

The word is an imperative - meaning it’s a command. 
“Contemplate this which was in Jesus Christ.”  It’s in the present tense:  “Keep on thinking - don’t stop thinking about what was in Jesus Christ.”

The bottom line being that as we focus on Jesus - who He is - what He did - that mindset that was in Jesus should also be in us.  The attitude that Jesus had should sink so deep within us - rattle around in us - so that from the core of who we are we are constantly thinking about living like Jesus lived.  So that we will live as He lived.

The Apostle John writes,
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)  That kind of love brings God into human flesh.  Drives One to the shedding of blood.  The doing of whatever it takes to reach to those who need the very core of who we are spilled out for them.  A child in El Salvador.  A spouse.  A sibling.  A Co-worker.  Certainly the people sitting next to us this morning.

We must set aside our prerogatives.  It’s a question.  What keeps you back from having His same attitude in



1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes
2. TruthorFiction.com (12.08.03)
3. LiveScience.com (5.26.06)


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.