I’m sure each of us, at one time or another, has made a new year’s resolution. The idea of new year’s resolutions is often mocked because more often than not resolutions are broken or abandoned within a few short weeks, or even a few short days. But at the very least, new year’s resolutions are indicative of a desire for genuine and meaningful change. Christmas is a season to contemplate how our lives might be reshaped to reflect the birth of the Messiah and the dawning of God’s new creation.  

If you haven’t made a new year’s resolution for 2023, let me draw your attention to today’s second reading, which is an exhortation of St. Paul that we can hear as a resolution. In his letter to the young church in the ancient Macedonian city of Philippi, Paul tells the Christians there, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” He then proceeds to elaborate on what the “mind of Christ” entails.  

Let me pause to offer a bit of historical and literary context. Occasionally in Paul’s letters we can find him quoting different sources, usually from the Old Testament. The scholarly consensus is that, in today’s reading from the letter to the Philippians, Paul is doing exactly that. But he isn’t quoting from the Old Testament; he’s quoting a very early Christian confession about Jesus that took the form of poetry or perhaps a hymn. In fact, it has come to be known as the Carmen Christi—or “Christ hymn.” You may recognize it as one of the affirmations of faith that we say from time to time here at St. Aidan’s.  

Paul draws on the Carmen Christi to explain what the “mind of Christ” means. The mind of Christ, according to Paul, is what every Christian, including ourselves in 2023, should embody. In the Carmen Christi four key points are made. First, though Jesus Christ was “in the form of God,” he did not exploit this privilege to any advantage. Second, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” Third, Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” And fourth, because of this “descent,” God has “highly exalted” Jesus, underscoring the significance of the name Jesus—a variant of Joshua—“God saves.” Paul says that we are to have this “mind” in us. In other words, we are to emulate and embody this very way of existence, for in doing so we will find God’s salvation.  

How might we resolve to embody the mind of Christ for 2023? I’d like to offer four lessons for us that correspond to the four points made in the Carmen Christi. First, just as Jesus did not seek to exploit the privilege of his divinity, so we must not seek to exploit to our advantage whatever privileges we might enjoy. But even before committing to that, we must be able to name and acknowledge our privilege. One of the great unacknowledged forms of privilege that many of us benefit from, even unintentionally, is white privilege. Many white people have a difficult time seeing the world as racialized because race doesn’t impact their own daily lives in any negative way. Simply by virtue of the fact of being white, so many of us benefit from a way of life that isn’t disrupted by racism. Police don’t harass us; we’re not viewed with suspicion when we’re out for a walk; and we’re not denied promotions or job security because of our skin color. That is privilege. Of course, there are other forms of privilege. Consider economic privilege. Or male privilege. White privilege, however, is particularly insidious because it remains a steep learning curve for so many white people. I would recommend three books in this area: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo; What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition by Emma Dabiri; and 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph.  

More is at stake than just naming and acknowledging privilege. We need to take the next step and understand privilege as a problem. So the second lesson of the Carmen Christi is that, just as Jesus renounced the ultimate privilege of divinity and “emptied himself,” as we’re told, “taking the form of a slave,” so we must explore every opportunity to disavow the advantages that privilege grants us. That might mean small daily choices, like stepping back so that others might first speak. Or, for some, it might mean much greater decisions, like selling possessions—vehicles, properties—and giving the proceeds to the poor, just as Jesus instructed. We all have different resources, different needs and different constraints, so each of us must figure out what it means to “empty ourselves.” What it does not mean is living comfortably. Sometimes it takes time to figure that out, as we grow in our awareness of the burden of privilege. But casting aside that weight is part of what it means to embody the mind of Jesus Christ.  

A third lesson of the Carmen Christi is the call to martyrdom—which is not a “death wish” but rather living as an undeterred witness to the radical way of Jesus. Just as Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross,” so we must be prepared that following the same path of Jesus, disavowing privilege, may mark the end of our life as we’ve enjoyed it. One of the greatest scandals in Christian history is that Christian faith and accumulation of material wealth have become complementary, even mutually reinforcing. What the Carmen Christi challenges us to see is that the self-absorbed pursuit of comfort, wealth and upward social mobility is patently at odds with the mind of Christ. Disavowing privilege could very well mean dying, at least figuratively, to the ways of existence that generations upon generations have absorbed as normative. We’ve been conditioned to assume that upward social mobility is the hallmark of a successful life. If that is so, then embodying the mind of Christ means dying to the success of wealth accumulation. Jesus took the form of a slave, humbling himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even crucifixion—a mode of execution reserved for criminals and treasonous dissidents.  

And that leads to the fourth lesson: as Jesus became obedient to the point of death, God “highly exalted him,” giving him “the name that is above every name”—Jesus, which means “God saves.” Similarly, as we empty overselves of all privilege, dying to the life of comfort and success, we too shall find ourselves raised by God to new life. This is our salvation. Another great scandal is that salvation has been understood as avoidance of the cross. But as Jesus himself said, “Whoever desires to follow me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and then follow me.” If resolving to embody the mind of Christ seems to onerous, too impossible, perhaps too naïve, the easy alternative will get us nowhere. In fact, isn’t that the point of being a Christian—to journey along the onerous way, the impossible way, where salvation is found?  

So, for a new year’s resolution, let me echo St. Paul and recommend embodying the mind of Christ. Yes, I assure you, it will be a resolution quickly broken. But following the way of Jesus is about perseverance, resolving again each day of our lives to empty ourselves. Let’s do it together.