The song, ‘From Heaven You came, helpless babe’ has been going through my mind in this lead-up to Christmas. It led me to read Mark, Chapter 10, where the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest among them, and two of them proceeded to ask Jesus if they could sit in the highest places of honour next to Him, which fuelled the disharmony among the disciples even more.
We are told: ‘Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage”’ (Mark 10:42-45).
How timely, on the eve of celebrating Jesus’s coming to earth, to be reminded of the very reason He came. On the first Christmas Day, the Son of Almighty God came from His exalted place in Heaven down to Earth, not to be served, but as the Servant King, who would serve us, to the point of giving His life as a ransom for our sin. What incredible love!
As the Graham Kendrick lyrics continue, ‘He calls us now to follow Him’. From Jesus’s own words (above), that surely means, not elevating ourselves, not allowing power to go to our heads and trying to impose ‘Christian codes of behaviour’ on others, saying ‘no’ to our natural pride, and instead humbly serving others and sharing His love with them, so that they too might find Him and personally experience His great love and saving grace.
I was greatly impacted by a story I heard recently about a Spaniard called Alphonsus Rodriguez. He was born in 1533 and had a hard life. When he was fourteen, his father died suddenly, and he had to leave school to care for the family business. Later, he married and had three children, but tragedy struck, and his wife and children all died. In his thirties, he was driven to the brink of financial ruin. Then, at the age of forty, he tried to join a Jesuit monastery, but was considered too old and too uneducated to become a priest.
Instead, Alphonsus went to a Jesuit College on the island of Majorca, where he served as a porter and doorkeeper for the rest of his life. Never promoted, never priested, Alphonsus turned door-keeping into a sacramental duty. Every time the doorbell rang, he would say, “I’m coming, Lord!” and would then welcome the visitor as Christ Himself.
Over the years, countless brilliant young priests passed through that college. They were enjoying opportunities and privileges Alphonsus had been denied, but he welcomed each one lavishly, without any hint of resentment and many of them turned to him for spiritual counsel.
One of these young priests, a twenty-five-year-old, named Peter Claver, began meeting daily with Alphonsus who was by then seventy-two years old. Eventually, the old man encouraged Peter to embark upon a great adventure to South America where he was to work tirelessly for the rest of his life, caring for slaves.
Peter Claver was later recognised as a saint for his heroic efforts as ‘el esclavo de los esclavos’, ‘the slave to the slaves’. And Alphonsus Rodriguez was also made a saint, canonised for his own brand of quiet heroism expressed in a life of humility, hospitality and servanthood that changed the world.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving Your exalted place in Heaven to come to Earth on that first Christmas Day. And thank You for coming with such grace and humility as the Servant King, to serve those You had created. Please help me over this Christmas period, and going forward into the new year ahead, to be a better servant to others, please change me to be more like You, to walk in humility like Alphonsus, selflessly sharing Your love and kindness with others that they too might come to know Your saving grace and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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