Weekly Bible Devotional
“Down to Earth Humility”
December 8, 2019
Scripture for Sunday: Philippians 2:5-8
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.”
Notes on the Text:
We continue this week looking at the words of Paul to the Philippians for inspiration and instruction. This week our focus is on Christ’s example of self-emptying and humility. The Apostle Paul was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus in Philippi to be humble as Jesus himself was humble teaching them that God’s way of love always defies our challenges about power and control. The church in Philippi was struggling with external pressures and internal divisions. There was the pressure to fit in with the culture and the struggle over power within the community. Paul was reminding the Philippians of the example of Jesus. In the birth of Jesus, we see how God works in the world. God does not use force or domination as the tools for accomplishing things. God uses the power of love and service. This is in sharp contrast with the rulers of the world who seek to dominate. Adam Erickson writes this about Christmas, “Whereas Roman imperial theology promised peace through political conquest, Jesus promised peace through nonviolent love. Jesus reveals an entirely different theological and political system. He showed that God’s way to peace, the ‘Kingdom of God,’ isn’t achieved through the violent methods of the ‘Unconquered Sun,’ but through the self-sacrificial and nonviolent love of the ‘Conquered Son.’ Jesus wasn’t born simply to tell us to love one another. He wasn’t executed on a Roman cross simply because he preached a message of love. Nor was he resurrected to conquer those who killed him. He was born, he was killed, and he rose again to subvert the whole theological and political system of violence with God’s nonviolent love. He reveals the absurdity of believing that the means of violence can achieve the goal of peace. As Borg and Crossan write, the ‘terrible truth is that our world has never established peace through victory. Victory establishes not peace, but lull. Thereafter, violence returns once again, and always worse than before. And it is that escalator violence that endangers our world.’ That’s why Christmas is subversive.”
The key word to focus on in this passage is “emptied” which comes from the Greek word Kenosis. According to The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Kenosis is a “Greek word meaning ‘an emptying’ or ‘depletion,’ where Jesus the CHRIST is said to have ‘emptied himself.’”
Here is what Richard Rohr has to say about kenosis:
“Kenosis, or self-emptying, is revealed in the Trinity. The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century saw that God the Father, who is Love, completely empties God’s self into the Son; the Son empties into the Spirit; and the Spirit empties into the Father. Incarnation flows from this kenosis that is inherent to God’s nature.
The first incarnation happened at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Every created thing is the self-emptying of God into multitudinous physical and visible forms. Two thousand years ago, God revealed the human face of love through the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus taught us to follow him down the path of humility, servanthood, and surrender. As Paul writes, ‘His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself, being born in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:6).
This is, as Cynthia Bourgeault writes, ‘the way of kenosis, the revolutionary path that Jesus introduced into the consciousness of the West.” Jesus’ entire life demonstrates how God loves unconditionally and selflessly. Why hasn’t Western Christianity emphasized what seems so obvious and clear? Cynthia explains:
‘What makes this mode so interesting is that it’s almost completely spiritually counterintuitive. For the vast majority of the world’s spiritual seekers, the way to God is “up.” Deeply embedded in our religious and spiritual traditions—and most likely in the human collective unconscious itself—is a kind of compass that tells us that the spiritual journey is an ascent, not a descent.’
. . . Jesus had only one ‘operational mode.’. . . In whatever life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, of the same motion of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher.”
Our transformation as people of faith is about emulating Christlike humility. Until we learn that the way of life is a decent, a self-emptying, we are never going to be able to find peace. One of our most common human struggles with humility and self-emptying is our resistance to change. Humility is about letting go and the ability to always change instead of focusing on keeping ourselves comfortable according to our ego’s likes and dislikes. We have to open ourselves to be ready to change not just once or twice but all the time. We must always be willing to grow and to see things differently. Whenever we get stuck in our own opinions, fears, and experiences, we have to be willing to step outside of ourselves and of our comfort zones to let God lead us to greater love, understanding, and compassion.
As we continue to prepare for the coming of Christ, we are invited to ponder the call to humility. Humility requires a constant sense of openness to change. Mike Slaughter writes, “To experience the new this Advent season, to find our ‘next,’ we must let go of the old. Old habits and ways of thinking must be replaced with new.”
We have to remember that at the time of Jesus people had to change their expectations about his coming. They had to let go of their images of a military ruler to behold the nonviolent prince of peace. They had to let go of their expectations of a royal birth to accept someone from the countryside of peasants and manual workers. They had to trust the visions of a teenage girl, the dreams of a carpenter, the words of lowly shepherds, and the blessings of foreign visitors. And as the babe grew up to be a man, they had to wait thirty years before his ministry finally took off and he gathered a following. They had to trust that even after he was executed by the Romans, his message was going to continue to resonate with people. They had to accept the witness of a handful of terrified women at the tomb about his resurrection. All of this is to say that this humility business was tough. Keeping an open mind and heart was not an easy thing! It is still not easy for us today.
This week as we are invited to God’s down to earth humility, I invite you to consider where God is nudging you to open up? What has God been prompting you to let go of for the sake of love and of compassion?
A Prayer for Openness by Joyce Rupp:
Remember the Holy One is with you.
Bring to mind this loving presence within you and around you as you pray the following:
Touch your fingertips to your forehead, saying:
Open my mind to remember your presence.
Touch your fingertips to your mouth, saying:
Open my mouth to speak your wisdom.
Touch your fingertips to your heart, saying:
Open my heart to extend your love.
Hold both hands out, open, palms up, saying:
Open my hands to serve you generously.
Holding arms wide open, saying:
Open my whole being to you.
Make a deep bow to the loving presence in you.