For God the Son of God, the only-begotten of the eternal and unbegotten Father, remaining eternal “in the form of God,” and unchangeably and without time possessing the property of being no way different to the Father He received “the form of a slave” without loss of His own majesty, that He might advance us to His state and not lower Himself to ours. — St. Leo the Great, Sermon XXVIII on the Nativity
In this quote, St. Leo is reflecting upon Philippians 2:5-7:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
Christ did not need to grasp at being God (as did Adam of old) because He is already in the form of God — in no way different than the Father, as St. Leo says. Yet, he took the form of a slave. Normally we translate the word doulos as “servant” or “bondservant.” I suppose we shy away from its real meaning of “slave” because of the discomfort we have with that word, especially in context of U.S. history. St. John, however, confirms the reality of Christ coming as slave:
Jesus…rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself — John 13:5
The washing of the feet was the task of a slave and Christ dressed the part. This is why Peter is so shocked in vv. 6, 8.
Despite this, He loses none of His majesty. Rather, He advances us to His state. Christ turns to world on its head — He turns the world right side up. By becoming a slave, He elevates all of us. He pays no heed to what the world says and what the world expects. How many times in our lives have we or someone we know been brought down to someone else’s level — or done this to someone else? How many bullies have we seen punish those who excel? How many times have we blamed the rich or the famous or the powerful and wanted to take them down a few notches or delighted in the scandals that did bring them down? How many times have we ignored those “below” us?
Christ became a slave to elevate all of us. The list of saints are full of those who the world would never have given a second thought to:
- St. David — an adulterer and murderer
- St. Mary of Egypt — a prostitute
- St. Paul — a persecutor of the Church
- St. Peter — a fisherman
- St. Matthew — a tax collector
- St. Photini — a Samaritan and adulteress
- Ruth — an alien
- Joseph — a slave
- Jacob — an usurper and liar
- I could go on…
The world wants to deny that every one of us has been endowed with the image and likeness of God. In turn, God refuses to deny that image and likeness in anyone. It is why He sent us His son:
He Whom nothing can contain, how is He held within a womb? And while in His Father’s arms, how in His Mother’s pure embrace? Such is His will and good pleasure, and as He knows. For being without flesh, He took flesh willingly; for us HE WHO IS became what He was not. Without forsaking His own nature, He has partaken of what we are. For Christ is born now, twofold in nature, to fill Heaven with mankind. — Kathisma from the Orthros of the Nativity of Christ
Let me emphasize that last line: He came to fill Heaven with mankind. Amen.