Burning with envy, I stared at that long dark hair as it fell over the plastic baby in the manger. It isn’t fair, I thought. I would make a great Mary. But there I was, once again clad in a white gown and sporting a battered pair of wings and a rickety halo made of garland and a wire clothes hanger.
Every single year of my childhood, I wanted to play Mary in the church nativity play. And I actually kept hoping it would happen. But every year they cast me as an angel because of my hair (or at least that’s what they told me). Everybody knew Mary had long, dark, apparently straight hair. I had strawberry-blonde curls, which I guess made me a convincing angel–on first impression. The impression didn’t last. I was the world’s most fidgety angel. Really. My parents actually got complaints about that (my dad was the pastor; people complain about these things).
I was a restless child anyway, but another reason I fidgeted was because I didn’t see my role as all that important. I didn’t think my movement really mattered because I was only part of the background.
I really wanted to be Mary. I wanted to be in the foreground.
Obviously, I was no angel. And my attitude was seriously opposed to the spirit of both Christ and Christmas.
One of the things we celebrate at this time of year was Jesus’ incarnation into humanity–an act of not only entering our world, but diminishing himself. He diminished not his being, but his frame and his experience. As I consider what this means, I imagine that experience of diminishing must have been one of the most painful parts of his glorious sacrifice on behalf of humanity. God himself, our limitless Creator, took on the limitations of being human. He subjected himself to the boundaries of time, to failing strength, the need for sleep and food, the challenges of learning, the impatience to grow up, the desire to stay young, the indignities of bodily functions. He knew poverty and oppression. He engaged in relationships fraught with misunderstanding and self-protection. His motives were questioned in the most offensive ways. He was dismissed and overlooked. For most of his time on earth, until he attracted attention, this King of Glory lived the life of an impoverished, ordinary, powerless man in a small corner of the Roman Empire.
Philippians 2:1-8 speaks of this great act of becoming small. Jesus, this passage points out, took on the very nature not only of a human, but of a servant. He humbled himself to the point of letting humans kill him–and in the most brutal way!
But Philippians 2 doesn’t stop at celebrating Jesus’ diminishing. It points to Jesus as our example and tells us we should follow.
What does it mean to diminish ourselves for the sake of others? It doesn’t mean trashing our being or despising who we are at our core. It doesn’t mean neglecting our health, hurting ourselves, dismissing our value, or hiding our magnificence. After all, we are children of the King and co-heirs with Christ. But it might mean we, like Jesus, subject ourselves to limitations and experiences we might be able to escape, for the sake of others. Perhaps we let go of trappings we have earned so others can have what they need. We do things we don’t want to do, let others do things we know we could do better. We follow Paul’s advice: “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4).
So there’s a challenge for us this Advent season, for me as much as anyone. I can think of a few opportunities I’ll have to stand in the background–minus the halo. I’ll try not to fidget.
What might it mean for you to take on the form of a servant in this season?
© 2016 Amy Simpson.