The decision to serve, in whatever capacity, is a conscious choice. It has nothing to do with the expectation of a reward or even the assumption that those being served would acknowledge it. In fact, sometimes they won’t appreciate the gesture. Our motivation and inspiration comes from the example of God our Creator and Redeemer, who serves us by providing a universe loaded with good things and who offered himself as the payment for our sins, thus reconciling us to himself.
Thus true service is a sacrifice of love. Through our job or occupation, in our care for our spouses and children, in the assistance and help we render to our neighbours, service looks beyond what is to be gained. It reaches out to help because it sees the other party as valuable, someone in whom God’s image shines forth. And it considers it worthwhile to deny oneself of one’s own convenience at that moment in order to serve or help the other person.
It’s Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and here I am meditating on death! But perhaps it’s not entirely out of place. This baby was born to die. His life was a life ordained to service, and this service was to die.
However, his death would bring life. Speaking of himself, Jesus stated that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) He was speaking of his approaching sacrificial death for the sins of humanity. And this principle goes well beyond the circumstance of Jesus’ ministry; it applies to the whole of human existence. It takes dying to self to bless others. It requires self-denial to care for and serve others, for our sinful human nature is basically selfish.
Interestingly, just like the death of Jesus, our ‘death’ produces true life. We do not truly live unless we are giving our lives for a cause or a person. And so many thinkers and figures in history have pointed this out. Our own ordinary experiences confirm this. Mothers know what it is to give their lives for their children, husbands die to their own interests in order to love their wives, friends make sacrifices for the sake of one another. Yes, we die. But in dying, we live. Self-denying service is a death unto life – true life.
And this is what Christmas is about.