When we want to read about the birth of Jesus, we usually turn to Matthew and Luke. After all, that’s where we find angels and shepherds, magi and the manger, Mary and Joseph, and, not least, baby Jesus himself. We don’t usually turn to the Gospel of John. John doesn’t have all the nativity stuff. Nevertheless, the opening chapter of John is telling a Christmas story, because it’s telling the story of the Word of God made flesh in the person of Jesus. It’s the story of the incarnation. And Christmas is about nothing, if it’s not about the incarnation. John is not quite so interested in who was there when Jesus was born. He is more interested in the implications of God taking a body in Christ. And one of the reasons John is interested in what it means for God to take a body in Christ is because John understands that the body of Christ is the bread of life. And John wants to be sure the sheep are fed.
Advent is about Christ’s coming. And his coming is about the promise of his presence with us. But Christ is not present with us in exactly the same way as he was to his first followers. None of us have ever had an experience like that of the disciples, who were granted to look upon and touch the risen Christ. This raises the question: How is Christ present with his Church now? How is he with us in between his first and second comings? The Church’s answer has long been quite simple, even if it remains deeply mysterious. He is present in the bread and the wine.
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There are many words to describe God. One of those words is “generous”. And what an excellent word to describe the big-hearted and overflowing extravagance of God’s grace. We can be exceedingly grateful that God relates to us with a generous grace. But if God treats us with such generous grace, shouldn’t our lives be conduits of that grace to others? Shouldn’t we embody that kind of godly generosity? Doesn’t God desire that his people be generous as he is generous? Because he is generous? And as we grow in godly generosity, aren’t we then growing in grace? And if generosity is about grace, isn’t it also about joy? What if growing in generosity produces joy? And not just any joy. Deep joy.
How would you like to be part of a group of people who were always concerned with your best interests? A group of people who were consistently and genuinely looking out for your well-being? They would be loyal to you. They would encourage you. They would build you up. That would be great. But you’re probably thinking: what a longshot. Because, after all, we meet people all the time who are in it for themselves – only looking out for Number One. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a part of group that was different, a group committed to other-oriented love? Longshot…right? Well, I believe that this kind of community life is a real possibility. And I believe it because that is the vision of community that Paul holds before the Philippian Christians in his letter to them. He tells them to regard one another with the mind of Christ looking not to their own interests but to the interests of others. It turns out that Paul thought the Philippians could actually live into this vision. And he commended Timothy and Epaphroditus as men who embodied this vision of what it looks like to be Christlike in real life. Check out this week’s podcast for more on embodying the mind of Christ consistently…comprehensively…entirely.
One reason I love Philippians is the constant attention Paul gives to applying the gospel to all of life. He really wants to see the light of the grace of God shine into every crack and crevice of the human heart. He wants to see us work out the grace that God has worked in us. One way he does this is by holding up the example of Jesus, the one who did not exploit his divine status but instead emptied himself to become a servant, and a human servant at that! For Paul, the attitude of Jesus demonstrated in his other-oriented self-emptying is the same attitude that should consistently and comprehensively be demonstrated in the lives of believers. We Wesleyan Christians sometimes happily insist that “all can be saved to the uttermost,” and this certainly reflects Paul’s understanding of salvation all the way through Philippians. To update the language a bit, we might also say that Paul believes we can be saved all the way. Click play above to discover how it happens.