Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. (Philippians 2:7 NLT)
Paul’s description of Jesus in Philippians 2 is likely from one of the first Christian hymns ever written. Regardless of whether or not Paul wrote it, Philippians 2:6–11 is one of the earliest poems about the nature of Christ. It’s interesting, then, that the author chooses to start off by juxtaposing the position of power and authority Jesus held in heaven with the humble position of servitude he took on for himself here on earth. Even as he still held onto his divinity, Jesus chose the difficult path, setting aside the privileges associated with his heavenly position.
Often when we think of the suffering Jesus, we look to Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion and the subsequent hours of interrogations, torture, and death on the path to the redemption and restoration of all things. Certainly, none of that was easy, but neither was the rest of his life. Repeatedly throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus choose to lean into difficult situations rather than shy away from them. This was not unique to his years of ministry; this was his nature from the very start.
Though we romanticize the pastoral imagery associated with Jesus’s birth, we forget his arrival in Bethlehem and his first bed in a manger were not simple or easy things. He chose to be born as a man, a flesh and bone body that hungered, thirsted, bled, itched, got sore, experienced pain, and generally endured a host of everyday sufferings. We all take these moments for granted; with no other frame of reference, hangnails, papercuts, skinned knees, and stubbed toes are simply a fact of life. By choosing the manger as his entrance point rather than coming to Earth as a fully grown man ready for ministry, Jesus chose to embrace these difficulties of life, large and small. He did not choose the easy way because he knew embracing the more difficult path of the manger would ultimately lead to greater glory for God.
If we are to be like Jesus – if we want to live in such a way that our lives reflect him and the choices he would make were he in our shoes – then we, too, must be willing to embrace our own difficult mangers. After all, it was the manger that was the beginning of the greatest story ever told: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Who can tell but God what our own difficult manger experiences will lead to?