I want to start our thinking this morning right at the very beginning of the Christmas story. Not with the manger in the stable in Bethlehem, not with Mary’s long journey on a donkey, not even with the annunciation as the angel Gabriel visited Mary foretelling the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ.
The story of Christmas did not begin on earth at all, but in heaven at the very throne of Almighty God, in a dialogue we could never comprehend between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to get the full story of Christmas we need to start at that very beginning, which is why our Christmas text this morning is 2 Corinthians 8:9.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich.”
In this single sentence, the apostle Paul sums up the whole story of Christ’s incarnation and the way God brings us salvation. Here is the story of Christmas. And Paul begins, as does John’s Gospel, not with the baby in the manger but with the cosmic Christ.
THOUGH HE WAS RICH
The person Paul is talking about is Jesus of Nazareth, but that person had existed long before the baby was born, long before even time began.
Who was that person? He was God the Son
John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
And what had that person, the Word done? He had created all things, absolutely everything.
John 1:3-5 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see,
Evermore and Evermore
We thought last Sunday evening about the prophecies of the Messiah in Isaiah
Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
THAT is the person we are talking about as Christians – the Word of God, God the Son. If our thoughts of Christmas don’t begin in heaven with the Cosmic Christ, we have missed half the story!
Though He was rich
YET FOR YOUR SAKES HE BECAME POOR
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In the manger we find the Word without a word – not so much squeezing a quart into a pint pot as squeezing an entire OCEAN into a pint pot!
An ancient Christian hymn quoted by Paul puts it this way.
Philippians 2:6-7 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Christ chose not to cling on to His divinity but that doesn’t mean He ceased to be God. He remained fully God as well as being fully human. There was no loss of power or glory – just a change of status as the king of kings and Lord of Lords became a tiny human baby. Think about the poverty of Christ’s birth and his childhood. Born in a filthy stable, not a palace. Brought up as a refugee in Egypt and then in an insignificant village in the back of beyond called Nazareth. One of a despised race, in a country ruled by an occupying army in the shadow of the mighty Roman Empire. Think of the shame for Jesus, being conceived before his mother Mary was married
But there is a second side to the poverty Jesus experienced, summed up in a simple sentence, “Christmas is a Son away from home.” Christmas is not just about the birth of a baby. It is about the Heavenly Father saying goodbye to His only begotten Son. God the Son embraced poverty at the incarnation, but so also did God the Father by sending His Son into the world, the Son who had been one with the Father since before time began.
Have you ever said goodbye to somebody you love, maybe at a station or an airport? That is the kind of poverty the Godhead experienced at the incarnation – poverty of relationship as the Son distanced Himself from the Father and the Spirit to become a tiny baby laid in a manger. That is how much God loves us!
And just why did God the Son leave all the glory of heaven and the presence of the Father and the Spirit? Not for their benefit, but for ours.
Though Christ was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor
SO THAT THROUGH HIS POVERTY YOU MIGHT BECOME RICH
The riches Christ has are not material but spiritual. So the riches He brings to us are not material but spiritual.
Galatians 4:4-7 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
As Christ shared the poverty of the human separation from God, so he shares with us the riches of a relationship with Almighty God as our Father. God the Son became a human being so that men and women could become God’s children too.
John 1:11-13 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Christ makes us rich by making us children of God. Christ became what we are, so that we might share in what He is.
2 Peter 1:3-4 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For a time God the Son let go of the relationship he had enjoyed with Father and Spirit since before time began, so that men and women like you and I can share in that relationship. That is the heart of the message of Christmas, Son separated from Father in order to reconcile fallen human beings with Creator God.
So how should we respond to all that God has done for us in Christ? Three simple things.
The context of 2 Corinthians 8:9 is all about generous giving to meet the needs of other Christians. There are lots of opportunities to give at this time of year. Giving to the work of the church and to Christian mission, and giving to those who are poor or needy, homeless or marginalised. Christmas reminds us just how much God loves us, God who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not die but have eternal life. Since God loves us so much, we should be generous to people in need out of deep gratitude for all God has done for us.
The context of Paul’s words in Philippians is an appeal for humility.
Philippians 2:2-7 Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing,
“He came down to earth from heaven, Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable, And His cradle was a stall:
With the poor and meek and lowly Lived on earth our Saviour holy.”
In His earthly life, Christ showed God’s love for the lost, the outcasts, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the criminals, the drop-outs, the “sinners”. Jesus was never too proud to help real people with real problems. Nor should we be. The Poverty of the Son of God challenges us to humility.
The message of Christmas is,
“Joy to the Lord, the World rejoice, Let earth receive Her King.”
Jesus Christ the Son of God was rich, yet He became poor. He became a human being, a baby laid in a manger, so that we might share in the riches of His relationship with the Father and become God’s children too. If YOU know God as your Father, then you too will be full of joy at Christmas.