From Splendour to Squalor

Advent meditation by Matt Smethurst:


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5–11)


Many religions throughout history have acknowledged the value of humility. None has dared speak of a humble God. The reason is simple: the notion of humility applied to deity is seen as a category mistake. So the claim that the biblical God—not a member of a pantheon, not an option on a menu of deities, but the one Creator of all—that he would stoop to serve his creatures, all the way down to a torturous cross, is not just startling. It’s scandalous.

But that’s precisely what happened. This passage re­sounds with the news that even though God the Son had it all—the worship of angels, the infinite love of Father and Spirit—he still came from the splendor of heaven to the squa­lor of a stable. And on a lonely night in a little town called Bethlehem, he began a journey of obedience to his Father—a journey that would culminate 33 years later on a hill outside Jerusalem, where he suffered on a cross for rebels like us. And what compelled him? Indescribable love. Indeed, “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). There is no better example of self-giving love than the One who left heaven when he could have stayed, and who stayed on the cross when he could have left.

But Christ’s humiliation is not the end of the story. In Philippians 2:9, Paul broadcasts the reward: “Therefore God has highly exalted him.” This phrase is shorthand for the whole complex of events—resurrection, ascension, corona­tion, heavenly reign—subsequent to his sin-bearing death.

And one day soon, everybody in the universe will bow before this King of glory. There are only two options: you can either bow to him now as Savior, or bow to him later as Judge. But every knee, including yours, will bow.

Friend, do not let another Christmas go by without staring—really staring—at the depths to which your Savior plunged himself in order to raise you up and seat you with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).


This passage doesn’t just move us to marvel at Jesus’s one-way love—it also calls us to cultivate his mindset (v. 5). Before this year is over, who is someone in your life you could stoop to serve? How and when could you do it? Few things will bet­ter spark encouragement, and perhaps gospel witness, than a deliberate act of self-giving love.


From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal,
Came the Savior of the human race.

— Stuart Townend, “Immanuel”

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.