Skipping out on the “light and superficial” messages that sometimes characterize the sermons preached on Christmas, megapastor Bill Hybels decided to dig deeper this year and go with something more substantial, focusing on the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and his suffering on earth to save mankind.
“Since the announcing of the Hybels’ Christmas Day service and not really knowing if...20 or 200 people would show up, I’ve had to make a decision of what kind of sermon to give on this occasion,” the founder of Willow Creek Community Church shared on Sunday morning.
The megachurch had earlier revealed that they would hold one worship service on Sunday, Christmas Day, hosted entirely by Hybels’ immediate family who would run the sounds and lights, lead the music, and read the announcements. All other staff and volunteers would be given the day off.
“As the day got nearer, I thought well I have to basically decide do I do something light and superficial or do something substantial?” Hybels informed his congregants.
“I decided that the people who made the effort to come on Christmas Day at 10 a.m. in the morning deserve something substantial, one can hope. So I’m going to read what I think is one of the most substantial texts in the Bible about the incarnation of Jesus Christ.”
Looking at Philippians 2:6-8, the preacher read: “[Jesus] being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
“In my humble opinion, this text captures the full weight and splendor of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.”
Beginning to analyze the passage, Hybels stated that when most thought of Jesus, they thought of him as an assistant to God – vice president, junior partner, backup quarterback.
The Scripture, however, taught differently he pointed out. “All throughout the Bible Jesus is carefully described as a full fledge member of the Godhead, equal with God in every way.
“If you start out fully God in every way and you wind out in a womb of a 15-year-old girl, half the size of a grain of sand, that’s a demotion any way you slice it. That’s going down a peg of 100,” the 60-year-old minister said.
“Truth is, we all hate demotions. If we get demoted in an organization, we usually leave it. If we didn’t get the table that we thought we were going to get in a restaurant, we usually exit...nobody likes demotions.”
And yet on Christmas Day, the single greatest demotion in all of recorded history occurred: the voluntary demotion of Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but made himself nothing.
“If you were enjoying all the privileges and prerogatives of heaven would you voluntarily open up your hands and let go of them for any reason?” he asked attendees. “Would you relax your grip of all the pleasures of heaven and let it slip through your fingers?”
It’s always tough once you get acclimated to something beautiful to go someplace south of beautiful, Hybels said.
“Gang, we have no idea. None whatsoever, what Jesus left behind when he agreed to come to earth. He had only ever known splendor and beauty worship and adoration, the very presence of God since eternity passed...and Jesus having resided in heaven since eternity passed, left it. Checked out. Volunteered to become an embryo half the size of a grain of sand inside a young girl’s womb.”
There has never been a demotion like that, the author of Finding God in the Storms of Life said.
And Jesus didn’t just stop there.
He took on the nature of a servant, was mocked by people for teaching eternal truths of God the Father and betrayed by someone he poured three years of his life into; he was arrested falsely and convicted, beaten, flogged, and spit on for offenses he never committed by humans he created, submitted himself to death on a cross, willingly receiving the full weight of the sins of the world when he had never known sin.
“I know what some of you are thinking right now,” Hybels expressed. “This is Christmas morning. We just opened our Christmas presents this morning...lighten up a little bit. And you know I get it...but for some strange reason, I wanted you to gasp about the miracle of the incarnation before this day slips past us.”
“I felt like Jesus deserved one more gasp before we moved on.”
As people looked at Nativity Scenes across the city this Christmas, the pastor hoped that believers would realize that Jesus was not just any baby, but a miracle baby who came down from the heavens when he did not have to, endured a serial indignities of a dozen or more demotions ending in death, all because of the “single profound mysterious reason that he loves you.”
“He wanted to redeem you and it was God’s only plan,” he encouraged. “He couldn’t stand the thought of ascending back into heaven and spending eternity without you. That thought was unacceptable to him so when the Father asked him to leave heaven and do the redemptive mission he said, ‘I’ll go, I’ll go gladly for individuals, for everybody.’”
“I hope that makes you gasp,” Hybels noted, “because Christ deserves one more gasp from us before we just go do our normal Christmas thing.”
Additionally, Christ’s life-giving demotions not only restored people back to God but also raised them up as well.
“What did the Father do after Jesus achieved his role?” Hybels questioned. “It says in the text [Phil. 2:9-11] God exalted Jesus to the highest place, giving him the name that is above all names...”
Normally, people thought that Jesus was the only one being exalted in the entire process.
“But the Scriptures actually teach that everyone who humbles himself and takes on the role of servant will be lifted up... God will honor your life,” he affirmed.
“Those of you who are servants, those of you who humbly put the serving towel over your arm and mimic what Jesus taught us, you will be lifted up, honored; you will have the same kind of blessing in your life that God put on Jesus. That’s the promise.”
Only through imitating Christ’s example could the purposes of God be advanced in a significant way, Hybels stated, urging his church to demote themselves like Christ and serve.
“If all of us in this church were to mimic Jesus’ example of humility and servanthood each and every day then we could become the kind of church and the kind of people that the gates of hell cannot prevail against, an unstoppable force for God and for good in our community and in our world,” he concluded.
“Studying this passage, several times I thought, ‘man, I want to become more like that guy, more like Jesus.’ And I figured if you showed up on Christmas morning, I think you do too.”
Pastor Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church in 1975 in Illinois, with the mission to “turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” Though the church started off small, it quickly thrived, currently averaging more than 20,000 people across six regional campuses.