Summary: We live in a status-seeking world. But when Jesus comes as a tiny infant in a humble set of circumstances, He shows us that the way to live is one of obedience and giving up control.
This afternoon, if all goes as we would like – all of us, that is, with the possible exception of a few traitors and a few folks who for some strange reason do not care about pigskin prowess – this afternoon, if all goes as we would like, our beloved Redskins will do battle with the folks from up at Philly, and will perhaps this time rise to victory. I am pausing for the cheering to die down!
Now in order for this to happen, several things have to be just right. For one thing, it would help if we had some healing miracles to take place in the next couple of hours. For another thing, somebody's throwing arm has to be on target, and several pairs of hands need to stock up on stickum. Besides that, you need to perform surgery on your Bibles. That's right … you need to clip out the verse that speaks of mounting up as eagles!
But most of all what needs to happen this afternoon is that old No. 72 and his compatriots will need to be on top of that fleet-footed Philadelphia quarterback. For the uninitiated, the word is "sack." We want them to sack the quarterback. What that means is to trap him, stop him, immobilize him, or as Khrushchev might have said, " bury him." "Bury him." Who was Khrushchev … oh, I think he was the coach of the Moscow Bears.
Now when we sack that quarterback there is a phrase the officials will be using to determine whether we really got him or whether we just inconvenienced him a little. They will determine whether the quarterback was in the grasp and control of our defense ... in the grasp and control. Did we not only lay unholy hands on him, but did we put him in his proper place? Did we not fully get big burly arms wrapped around his body, but did we also keep him from pitching that pigskin a thousand yards or so in the wrong direction? Grasp and control.
You know, I see in that football phrase something of a parable of what you and I keep on trying to get for ourselves. Grasp and control is our aim too. Grasp and control is what we are looking for. We may use more sophisticated language, we may speak about security or about image or about reputation, but the truth is what we want is grasp and control. We have jobs; we want to keep them. We have images; we want to polish them. We have a concern about self-control, about being in charge of ourselves. Grasp and control.
One of the saddest sights in all the world is to see someone who is, in fact, out of control, someone who wanders about the streets babbling, not making sense, someone who loses his cool and screams with anger. It's fearsome to see somebody lose grasp and control of himself. That's kind of been a thing that has bugged me for a long time. I can still remember the astonishing frequency with which I would bring home report cards from school, and the teachers would inscribe huge, black marks under the line that reads, "Shows reasonable degree of self-control." I don't like to be out of control of myself, do you? And I don't like to be out of control of situations in which I'm working. I’ve said to our church staff many times, in morning worship, here, we try not to have accidents. There may be a little spontaneity … in fact, I hope so … but no accidents. Control. Grasp and control. It's important to most of us.
And so the contrast is very striking indeed, very sharp and very clear, when you let this tremendous passage from the Philippian letter sink in. We want grasp and control, but this passage tells us of one who could have had control, did have control, but who thought that his place in life was not something to grasp and snatch, but who gave it up.
This ancient hymn … that's what many scholars think it is, an early Christian hymn, which Paul may be quoting here for the Philippian church … this ancient hymn speaks of one who by his very nature is an expression of God, but who chooses not to grasp that, not to hang on to that, not to flourish and flaunt that. This passage tells us of one who as he chooses to express himself in the man Jesus of Nazareth, freely strips himself of all the badges of godness, gives up his grasp, even gives up his control, goes into danger, walks into peril, enters every dimension of our humanness.
You can tell that I'm having trouble saying all this just right. Let me permit the ancient Christian poet to say it far better. "Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men ... and being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."