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How can we better serve others this Christmas, asks Gabriel Chan.
I’m new to Dunedin. Just eight weeks living in this beautiful city. Yet, in a strange way, not new. We’re discovering our history in Otago is deep. My wife’s great-grandfather disembarked at Port Chalmers aged 1 in the early 1900s; the Vickers’ generations multiplied in stunning Karitane, then went to many cities of the world, including London, where my wife and I met a century later. Joining the dots of our history here is awakening in us a fresh appreciation for the grand ways God works.
As we approach Christmas time, Christians remember the arrival of a new life into the world, a particular baby, Jesus. There’s something normal, and yet spectacular about a new baby, that awakens joy and life in people, no matter how hardened by experience. The smiles and baby voices are all vital parts of our collective memory, as are ‘‘dad jokes’’ and the exchanging of presents in this Christmas season.
We love new. And yet we’ve been recounting this same story for 20 centuries now. You might think Christians are obsessed with the baby Jesus. Is it about the baby Jesus alone? Or about the life the God-man Jesus would ultimately lead? Jesus’ personal history has profoundly shaped our own history. Sometimes there is a “new life” whose influence is so enduring that it literally renews the fabric of the human experience for multitudes. Jesus is that new life.
The pithy expression, ‘‘you can change the world’’, encapsulates for many a noble purpose; a yearning for the full potential of the human experience — significance.
But this old idea, like every idea, has its genesis somewhere. The nondescript baby Jesus grew to be the Prophet who gave humanity the first expressions of a new way to live. Many of these radical, original ideas continue to inspire and shape humanity millennia later, such as peace with God; the command to love one another in the same way God Himself loves us; to love one’s enemies; to forgive and take the initiative in reconciliation to name just a few for brevity’s sake. Our undiscovered history in the West has the capacity to dazzle us afresh.
Jesus’ birth is the beginning of one of these ideas. “[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). The powerful idea that God Himself sought to best connect with the world through entering it as a servant, is profound. This idea of servanthood imitated in humanity, finds its fullest maturity in, “If anyone would be first [or greatest], he must be last of all and servant of all” (Matthew 9:35). The concept of ‘‘servant leadership’’ is an old one, but I wonder if, or how its application today will lead to significant change in your life? Jesus calls for the genuine betterment of others through our own sacrifice and championing of them.
Present circumstances may seem opposed to the idea of focusing on and serving others, but there is opportunity all around us to make lasting change, especially now. If you desire to be a leader in these times, will you try the novel idea of adopting the heart of a servant? It is hard for people, especially in the free world, to consider themselves servants. Will I be taken advantage of? Will people see me and respect me if I serve them? Paul saw his freedom not as something to cling to, but as a present reality enabling him to choose service. “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
It will take servant leaders to traverse the divides ingrained in our society today. It needs people such as you who choose to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). People who are willing to validate the humanity of others by hearing their different perspectives and choices. People who are willing to lead by taking practical servant-hearted actions, helping to make Christmas special for the stressed and overburdened solo parent; sitting with the elderly and hearing their story; forging a context for peace between people holding diverse views.
Perhaps we could start by doing this Christmas differently? Perhaps we could offer to do something we wouldn’t normally do. Cook the dinner, do the present shopping, reach out to a neighbour. Anything that would share the load. And as we do, remember “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:3). Acts of kindness are the stepping stones of genuine and heart-felt love and servanthood. How might we better serve others over this Christmas season? Hopefully, you’ll join me for the journey of carrying another’s load.
-Gabriel Chan is the Senior Leader at Elim Church, Dunedin.