by Caleb Kim
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8
Kenosis is a Greek word meaning “emptiness” or “to empty.” It is the word that theologians use to describe verse 7 when Jesus “makes himself nothing” or “empties himself” by taking on the nature of a slave/servant. Theologians argue that Jesus maintained his deity, so his kenosis was more of a self-renunciation of his powers and knowledge. Because of this, people continue to ask questions like “what did Jesus know,” “what did he learn,” and “could Jesus walk on water as a boy?” These childish questions miss the point of the kenosis.
God attempts to show us that Jesus humbled himself by giving up his powers/knowledge, and lived a human life on earth to die our death on the cross. If we look past this, we miss God’s message. Christmas symbolizes the incarnation, but also the kenosis. Jesus could have come as a man, a king, or anything that he wanted to. But instead, Jesus came as a baby slave, who had no majesty that beheld him. He emptied himself of any sort of prestige, power, or wealth. He emptied himself for our sake.
Jesus not only emptied himself, but he took on human flesh. He gave up prestige, and took on a stable; he gave up power, and became a slave; he gave up the wealth of eternity, and took on the will of a carpenter. Jesus gave up the power and perfection of God and took on the limitations and temptations of humanity.
The humility that Christ walked in on the earth is unparalleled, because it is impossible to replicate. The fullness of God within the emptiness of man. And though Jesus was always fully God and fully man, we see his humility and servanthood because he does not tap into his ultimate potential. The baby in a manger is not just a cute portrayal on a mantel piece; it is a cosmic injustice that the world will never see again.
As St. Augustine says so poignantly:
The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.
Though there are theological debates and many questions surrounding the kenosis, what we do know is the incarnation. Jesus came as a baby, fully human and fully God, and lived a perfect life until he died on the cross. The kenosis is the beginning piece of the redemptive plan of God to save the world. But the kenosis is not the point. The point is the gospel: “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross!” He must first become nothing, to gain everything.