I’ve been reflecting on the christmas story in a different way this year.
For the first time, I’m celebrating with a child who is old enough to get excited about Christmas. He’s only 2.5 years old, but he randomly proclaims “it’s Christmas time!” throughout the day, sings Jingle Bells whenever the spirit of the season moves him, and of course, he asks a lot of questions.
When you have to explain things to a toddler, you really have to think through what you’re going to say. You have to understand it well enough to explain it simply, and this isn’t always easy.
Since he loves Christmas music so much, his favorite question right now is, “what’s this song?” Needing to explain the meaning of so many songs, coupled with the fact that we’re also taking care of a newborn, has put a main theme into my head for the Christmas story this year:
Christmas is the ultimate example of humility and servant leadership.
That means, if you want to be a better servant leader, there are a few things you can learn from the Christmas story. We’ll explore them in this post, starting with the words of Philippians 2:5-8, which says,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
This may not be the traditional version of the Christmas story – there are no shepherds or wise men in these verses. But make no mistake, this tells us several important thing about the birth of Christ.
Jesus was in the form of God
The first thing to notice is that Jesus was “in the form of God” and had “equality with God.” There is a common misconception in the world that Jesus did not exist before his birth in Bethlehem. There are people who believe he was simply a man that God elevated to divine status, but Philippians 2 stands in stark contrast to this belief.
The words of John 1:1-5 also back this truth up:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The “Word” refers to Jesus, and John 1:14 gives another short version of the Christmas story, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It’s difficult for us to comprehend or even imagine what Jesus gave up in order to come to Earth. He had equality with God, he was the Creator of all things, he was surrounded by glory and honor and worship.
He did not count it as something to grasp, however. He gave it all away, so that he could take on the form of a human and serve us.
A Servant Who Identifies with us
Not only did Jesus choose to serve us by letting go of his divine qualities, he chose to serve by “being born in the likeness of men.”
Like I said earlier, we have a newborn. She will be ten weeks old on Christmas day.
Newborns are capable of exactly nothing – they are dependent on others for everything. They need to be fed, they need help getting to sleep, they need their diapers changed constantly.
It never dawned on me until this year, but the Creator of the world stepped down from the glory of Heaven and became a helpless baby who frequently pooped on himself. It may sound offensive, but it is the truth.
So why would anyone do that? Hebrews 4:14-16 gives us some insight:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In order to truly serve the people he came to save, Jesus knew that he would need to identify with our weakness. He would have to walk like us, but before that he would have to learn to sit and to crawl.
He embraced the entire human experience, starting with birth. For more than 30 years he lived on Earth, and he even humbled himself “to the point of death.”
To call this remarkable is an understatement. As Steve Brown says, “The incarnation was the most important event in human history…and it was designed to astonish us.”
The Depths of his Humility
The last thing I want to talk about from these verses is the depths of Christ’s humility.
Here is where the nativity scene really starts to resonate. If any of us were writing the story, we would have made sure the Son of God was born into a really nice family or even a palace. He would have servants and plenty of comfort and food. He would be treated like a King, because that’s who he is.
But God had other plans, and Jesus sets the record straight in Matthew 20:26-28
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
This speech in Matthew changed the way we understand good leadership forever. No longer was leadership for the benefit of the leaders, but rather leaders were called to serve their people.
On the first Christmas, however, Jesus had already demonstrated the principle he would teach his disciples over 30 years later.
Instead of being born into plenty, Jesus was born to a poor couple who had nothing. He was not born in a hospital or even in a home, but into a dirty stable with animals watching.
Despite his humble beginnings, he would go on to change the world. Despite the humiliating way he died on the cross, death could not hold him. He rose from the dead, and because of the ransom he paid, we can have eternal life.
Now that we’ve seen the way Jesus chose to lead by serving with Christmas, how should it change our lives? I’m going to suggest three applications:
1) Do not consider power something to be grasped: Most of us think servant leadership is the best type of leadership when we’re following someone. Then we become leaders ourselves, get a taste for power, and it becomes really hard to let go of that power. It doesn’t matter if you’ve become the manager of a team at work or the President of the United States – power is not something to be grasped or hold over others. We should look to the example of Christ, and remember that the reason God puts us into positions of leadership is to serve others, not ourselves.
2) Identify with the people you lead: Jesus may be sitting on the throne in Heaven now, but he will never forget what it was like to be human. In the same way, we must also consider the needs and experiences and feelings of those we lead if we hope to serve them well. It can be easy for leaders to forget what it’s like to be a follower, so you must be intentional.
As a parent, do your best to remember what it’s like to be a child. As a leader at work, do your best to remember what it’s like to be a new hire or entry level employee. As leader in your church, remember what it’s like to explore your faith or need to learn your spiritual gifts. Whatever your situation, identifying with your people will make you a better leader.
3) Stay humble: If the Creator of all things could give up everything to come and live as a poor human, you can make some concessions yourself. So often we demand the things we think we “deserve,” but Christ willingly gave up the things he truly did deserve. Putting the people you lead first may cost you something, but this is the call of servant leadership.
It’s interesting that, after Jesus humbled himself, the Father responds with glory. Philippians 2:9-11 says,
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you humble yourself and choose to serve others, your leadership will be rewarded. It might be through the recognition of those you lead or those you lead with, but it might not. We do know, however, that servant leadership is an act of worship. Therefore it will be noticed by the one Leader who truly matters, and that’s an encouraging truth.
Have a wonderful Christmas, and I hope that as you read and hear the Christmas story for the umpteenth time, you will be astonished once again at the marvel of it all.
For more stories like this, check out the other Examples of Servant Leadership.