Though He was in the form of God….’
Philippians 2:5-11 [Part 2]
Wings of Desire is a 1987 film by German director Wim Wenders. Its main character is an angel who spends his time overlooking the vast city of Berlin from lofty heights and listening to the inner thoughts of human beings tormented with worry, fear, and doubt.
Though he can touch people in unexplainable ways, this angel longs to close the gap between his eternal and bodiless nature and the frail, temporal nature of those he beholds. It’s not enough to witness their joys and sufferings from a god’s eye view. He wants to experience them, to share in them. In the end, he abandons the privileges of divine life to enter into the maelstrom of the human condition.
The film is a fantasy, of course, but it does wonderfully, if indirectly, depict the meaning of the incarnation. God became flesh as the man Jesus Christ for precisely the same reason as our angel — the desire to share fully in the life of His creature. But unlike him, Christ’s desire to be human also heals and saves our race.
Christ’s longing is described in the first two stanzas of the Christ hymn of Philippians.
Who, though He was in the form of God…
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
Sometimes the doctrines of our faith can seem like dry as dust formulae. Take the teaching about the ‘two natures’ of Christ —- fully God and fully man. That’s catechism. Yet when the same thought is expressed in poetry, as in this hymn, we can contemplate this profound expression of God’s love.
We will need to say more about what it means to be in the ‘form’ of God. But what is most important from the start is the notion that Christ ‘emptied himself.’ This kenosis, to use the Greek term, shows us the sacrificial nature of true love.
If we are to have the ‘mind of Christ,’ we too must be prepared to give up our desire to cling to our self-appointed status and privileges, or to control or manipulate our world, which is, after all, in the end ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’ The paradox is that if we are to know what it means to be truly human, we must follow the example not of other people, but of God Himself.