Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Philippians 2:5-11 in the Good News Translation (GNT). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: I bought a button with a picture of god on it in a busy village marketplace in Fiji.
It depicted Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master who claimed he was the Avatar— god in human form. The man who sold it to me was very reluctant to part with it – possibly just to increase the price I had to pay—because he said he was a devoted follower.
With no intent to denigrate anyone’s beliefs, it can be said that throughout history humans have worshiped millions of gods. There have even been thousands of individual humans who have been worshipped as deities. Almost every ancient religion had gods who were part human and part divine. In Greece, Egypt, Persia, India, Asia, and the Americas, gods became humans and humans became gods. Some came from sexual unions between the gods and humans, some “emanated” from the gods, almost like amoebas splitting off their progeny, and some were gods who were forced to become humans as punishment for their “sins.”
In 1979, at the request of one of these acclaimed deities, my wife and I traveled to Nepal with a group from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health to study the health care needs in the remote valleys of that beautiful country. Our group was invited by the king of Nepal, and the Nepali kings of the Shah dynasty were considered to be reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu. Many of the people we visited in the isolated valleys close to the Tibetan border revered the Dalai Lama, the traditional ruler of Tibet and considered in Tibetan Buddhism to be the reincarnation of their god Chenrézik. But it is not just Asian cultures who have worshipped their rulers. The Pharaohs of Egypt, the Roman emperors and the Incan emperors claimed divinity. Even European kings were thought to rule by divine right, and some claimed to have the royal touch of healing.
Unwittingly, George Washington, Mother Teresa, Prince Philip, and even the Argentinian soccer great Diego Maradona have had dedicated adherents who have considered them to be gods. (Allegedly, the fans of Maradona baptize themselves by slapping a soccer ball, which is a reference to a goal he inadvertently and illegitimately made with his hand—“the hand of God”—against England in 1986. Sorry, Japhet!)
Recalibrate: Given all these competing claims, what makes the Incarnation of Jesus Christ special? What is it about the biblical story that leads Christians to believe He was the One and only God on earth?
Respond: Pray for a clearer understanding of your relationship to Jesus Christ, and what it means in your life.
Research: Read through this list of people who have been considered deities and think about the similarities and differences between them and Jesus (although Jesus is also on the list).
Remember: “Jesus has always been as God is” (Philippians 2:6a, NLV).
Mark is executive director of the public health department in Jefferson County, one of the most populous counties in the state of Colorado. He received his medical training at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University and is board certified in preventive medicine and public health. He is chair of the vision board at Boulder Adventist Church where he is a regular preacher. Mark is married to Diane and they have two adult children and three granddaughters.
Help your child make a picture of the nativity scene. Include baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, angels, the star, sheep, and other animals that might have been there. Point to the different people. Ask or tell your child about what that person’s perspective might have been. Point to the different animals. What sounds do you think they made? What do you think it was like for them to see baby Jesus?
Make a comic book drawing of the Christmas story of Jesus. Write little thought bubbles above the different people and animals to show what they were thinking when they saw baby Jesus for the first time. Tonight, bring your family together to read the story you created together. Ask them what they might have thought if they had been present when Jesus was born.
In high school, I was on the cross country team. Being on the team meant that every day I had to run, do different drills, and cut out certain things from my diet so that I could run faster. And let me tell you, it paid off. During my first year of being on the team, I got first place in every meet. And when I got first place I made sure to post about it on Instagram (this was in the days before Instagram stories, or else I would have posted there too), and when it came up in conversation at school, I made sure to tell people about my success. This is the complete opposite of what Jesus did when He came to earth. He didn’t come down in splendor and might. He didn’t advertise about it and boast about how humble He was in coming down to save us all. He didn’t come to a wealthy, well-known family. Instead, He came in the form of a helpless infant to be raised by a lower class, unknown family. And the only people who really knew about His arrival were the shepherds and a few men from the Middle East. He had every right to come down as a mighty king or to have a grand entrance, but He didn’t. “Instead He emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when He had come as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” As Christmas approaches, reflect on how this holiday is wrapped around the fact that Jesus humbled Himself and took on the title of a servant so that we could inherit the kingdom of God.