The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Isaiah 49.7-13; Philippians 2.1-11
Alongside all the pantos on offer around Christmas there’s often a stage production somewhere of Kenneth Graeme’s lovely book, ‘The Wind in the Willows
There are some wonderful characters in that story but perhaps the most fun is Toad, with all his plans and schemes. But Toad is someone of whom you could say, ‘He’s so full of himself!’ It’s something we occasionally say when talking about someone else. A person so full of themselves that there’s no room for anyone or anything else; so full of themselves that they become the centre of all things, for themselves.
But in this Evensong on this First Sunday after Christmas Day we’re celebrating the very opposite.
There’s a wonderful Greek word that theologians use in relation to Jesus and it’s a word that comes from today’s Second Lesson. Paul in writing of Jesus to the Christians in the Greek city of Philippi says that he
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
It’s this emptying, as a matter of choice, this self-emptying, which theologians describe using the word ‘kenosis’.
St John in his Prologue to the gospel that bears his name, the wonderful reading that we have on Christmas Day, speaks of the ‘fullness of God’ being found in the Word made flesh, being in the Son. And this is at the heart of this mystery that we celebrate.
Jesus is full of the divine nature, yet willingly and purposefully empties himself, being as one with us, in all that it means to be human, yet without losing any of his divinity. Fully man, fully God, with divine fullness and majesty yet emptied and humbled.
There’s something so powerful in looking at the image of the baby in the manger in order to understand something of this. That God chooses to be entirely vulnerable as to be born as a baby, shows us the extent that God desires to be as we are. St Athanasius said that ‘God became man that we might become God’. In the baby we see our call to full humanity, in God we see our call to full divinity.
The early Christian writer, Ephrem the Syrian, describes this whole mystery in these words.
Blessed is the Unlimited who was limited!
So why did God do this, limiting the Unlimited? That person, like Toad, so ‘full of themselves’, with which I began, is something of the answer.
There is room for nothing else in such a person. But God empties God’s self to provide space, for you, for me. God ‘has chosen’ us, says the prophet Isaiah in the First Lesson, to be one with God as God is one with us. God allows us into the heart of the divine being, humbly embracing who we are.
Paul says to the Philippians that we therefore need to do the same
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
So we too are called to this life of kenosis, to this life of self-emptying, of creating space for the other, whomsoever the other may be, for allowing people in, for not being so full of ourselves that there’s no room for anyone or anything else.
When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for them in the inn, instead God was born in the empty space outside. Our lives must not be like that full inn with no room for the God who arrives but, instead, just as God has made room and a dwelling for us, so we must make room and a dwelling for God, in whoever it is that we see and find God among us, God with us.