As Christmas, we celebrate the great occasion when the infinite Word became a finite baby. Not surprisingly, Christmas time is therefore a time to reflect on this staggering paradox—the one who spoke the galaxies into being is the same one who was held by a woman, cooing at her, not knowing how to speak at all. That is what happened.
But the paradoxes don’t end with what God did. We also find great paradoxes in why He did it. In fact, the mysteries only get deeper the more we think about it. When the great king of all the universe stooped to become one of us, it would be natural to assume that He did this because He wanted to gather us all up for His service. He is the great king, and we were to be made His minions.
But again, this is close to being the reverse of the truth. There is an element of truth in it, as we will see in a moment, but we have to be careful to hold it rightly. Jesus did not come to earth in order to make us His servants. Rather, He came to earth in order to become our servant. He came to be a servant, not a great king with a multitude of servants.
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”” (Mark 10:44–45, ESV).
Christmas was the beginning of the great offer, where God comes down, not to demand service, but to offer service. Jesus Christ took on a human body that was capable of dying so that He could give His life as a ransom for many. He came to give Himself away; He did not come to seize or grab anything.
Now there is glorious good news in this, but something still sounds wrong. Something is off. If God is our servant, then what is to prevent us from demanding obeisance from Him like so many selfish graspers? The answer to this puzzler is found in the fact that God did not just reverse who the master is and who the servants are, but rather He completely transforms the nature of authority and the nature of service. The question is not just who is in authority?, but also what is authority like?
Jesus did not come because He was in need of our service. “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 50:12). He does not call us into His service so that we might fill up something that He was lacking. He lacks nothing—He is the everlasting and triune overflow. At the same time, He does transform us into His servants, so that we might be privileged to become part of His overflow. This is why, in the verse just prior, Jesus said of us that “whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44, ESV).
In His everlasting wisdom, God determined—according to the good counsel of His will—that He would be most glorified if a ragged band of sinners were transformed into a multitude of saints, so that we might join Him in His surplus. And this is what true servanthood is—flowing into His overflow. We become servants in imitation of Him, facing outward, facing those who truly do need service, so that all things in heaven and on earth might come to be inundated by His torrential glory.
He serves us, giving Himself away for us, and at the same time retains true authority as our Lord and Master. We see this great paradox in how Jesus spoke to His disciples after He had washed their feet.
“So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:12–14).
It is right and proper for us to call Him Lord. This is the fundamental Christian confession—Jesus is Lord. At the same time, the fundamental Christian realization is that lordship is not what we had for so long assumed it to be. Lordship is giving, not grasping. This is Christmas, not Grabbygrabbymas. Glory is surrender, not conquest, and in the surrender we find that the entire cosmos is conquered by a love that subdues all things. In all attempts to conquer we see capitulation, humiliation and defeat, and in all self-effacing surrender we see the power that summons every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
This dark planet had been captured by the evil one, and all its walls and turrets were bristling with all the armaments that the principalities and powers could muster. In the center of that city, in the midst of that camp, in the heart of that militant darkness, God sent His champion. He sent a baby.
This is why—in the kingdom of God—the one who would be great must become the servant of all. At Christmas, we are celebrating the great beginning of this way of doing things. And so, as we celebrate this great event, let us remember what we are celebrating. As we prepare to give gifts to one another, to share meals together, to put ourselves out for the sake of others in all the ways we do, let us make sure that we are actually giving the central gift of what we have been given, of what we now are in Christ. Only this will prepare us for the inevitable disruptions and temptations—the gift that was a dud, the person who didn’t chip in like he promised, the difficult person at the family reunion, and so on. That’s just the way it is—welcome to earth, and merry Christmas.
Unless we are giving ourselves away in this way, we should not really care if our Christmas is ruined, because without this disposition, there is no such thing as a Christmas capable of being ruined. If God has not visited us in His glorious condescension, then we are all still in our sins. Go ahead and infuse all the selfishness you can into this winter festival of yours—but if you do, make sure you don’t complain when others do the same. If Christ has not shown us the way out, then there is no way out—both for you and all the others—and a sullen and cranky demeanor becomes a universal law.
But if He has shown the way out, then we should simply follow Him, whether or not anybody else is doing so. And when we learn how to stop casting sidelong glances, of the kind that always checks to see if others are following Him right, and we fix our eyes on Him, there up ahead of us, we find that a marvelous thing has happened to our hearing. We hear footsteps, millions of them, as all around us the new humanity follows after Christ, seeking the glory and honor that comes to faithful servants, the servants of His overflow.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen. And merry Christmas.