Power is not the currency, humility is

Scott Cadman

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The town of Devenish lies two hours’ drive north of Melbourne. A small rural town, population under 100, its one obvious attraction a painted grain silo.

I was visiting Devenish because my great-great grandparents lie in the local cemetery, migrants in the 1840’s from Britain. Humble beginnings.

Humble beginnings are not a bad thing to be reminded of, especially when at Christmas we celebrate the one born in Bethlehem, lying in a manger. It is as far from the comforts and power of Herod’s palace as one can imagine.

Paul in Philippians expresses that Jesus, the source of all life, who is God himself, with all the power in the world and in heaven, humbled himself, gave up all glory, power, and influence, and took the nature of a servant.

The great challenge that Advent and Christmas always exposes is that so much of me wants to go in the other direction. I want to ascend not descend. I want Adelaide not Devenish, Jerusalem not Bethlehem. This temptation is as old as humankind itself. The temptation of power.

The sad thing about the human story – and the church’s story – is that the temptation to use power – God’s or otherwise – for our own use has always been fatally tempting. What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible?

As Henri Nouwen explains, “maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

This hard task of love is why Philippians 2 disturbs me. Jesus emptied himself, humbled himself, and became obedient even to death on a cross.

I am not sure we like the sound or the reality of that. We like status. We like positions of influence. We like the power that gets things done our way. We like the sound of our name being exalted.

Yet the call of the gospel, the pattern of the Christian life, is to let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. In the kingdom of God greatness is not a virtue, being the servant of others is. Power is not the currency, humility is.

When confronted with the choice between power and love Jesus didn’t turn stones into bread, jump from tall buildings, or chase after the wealth and power of this world but gave himself to the hard task of love.

Maybe next time we are considering using power as a way of proclaiming and furthering the gospel we should take a breath and remember Bethlehem. It may well remind us that for all the temptations and allure of power, it is a poor and powerless Jesus, committed to the hard task of love, that we follow and serve.

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