The Way of the Word (Part Three) Kenosis (The self-emptying Word)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. NRS Philippians 2:5-8

The Greek word kenosis used in Philippians 2:7 is translated self-emptying. It is this self-emptying gesture that the Word/Christ performed at the moment of Christ’s coming as the baby in Jerusalem and the Savior of the world. The kenotic movement is what occurred at the moment of the incarnation.

“ Self-emptying is what first brings him (Jesus Christ) into human form, and self-emptying is what leads him out, returning him to the realm of dominion and glory”

Cynthia Bourgeault,

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, pg. 84

It seems to me, from a Trinitarian perspective, that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who is Love, was grieved over the sin caused impoverished nature that had overcome humanity and so adversely effected all creation. The kenotic response is a form of Holy denying, a willingness to sacrifice, by letting go of that which is cherished in order to bring reconciliation to God’s broken, yet still greatly lo people. This is the force of perfect Love, love overflowing, to the point of willing self-sacrifice by God. The gesture of kenosis is one of “letting go” or non-grasping” of infinite divine energy. Divine energy is not stored up and held onto. Instead, it is freely let go to create that which Love desires to be created. Jesus emptied himself, stored up nothing, clung to nothing, even to the point of the ultimate self-emptying act of servanthood that led to death on a cross, which is the ultimate and perfect display of God’s love for us. This is Love that calls us to new life, as new creations, “in Christ. Thus the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is The Word, are eternally connected and can never be separated.

What did the Word who is Christ Jesus empty, let go of?

In Christ Jesus, God emptied himself of the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. God incarnate became human in the fullest sense of what it means to be human, as humanity was originally created, when God called all creation “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Jesus Christ did not know all things, for he said when asked about the end and the second coming.

"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. NRS Matthew 24:36

Jesus Christ emptied himself of limitless power as he made himself susceptible to all the pain and limitations of being human. Likewise, he was not able to be in all places at all times, but limited himself to be in one place at any given time. Unlike us, however, he did all this while still remaining fully divine, thus without sin. God became one of us that we might become one with God. God’s self-emptying could not have been painless, it hurt God. God sacrificed much that we might be made righteous and become heirs to God’s eternal kingdom, in Christ, as children of God.

The kenotic movement is also the first step toward God’s re-declaration that all God’s creation is good. The flesh although fallen was not beyond redemption. For the One who, in the beginning, created all things came to restore God’s beloved creation. Thus, the human body, in contrast to the gnostic position, must forever be seen as sacred, precious and in some manner eternal, for this is how it is seen through the eyes of God. For God took on a body, thus glorified it, demonstrating that it was in no way evil, nor to be escaped in pursuit of a purely spiritual disembodied existence. The corruptible body would die but would become the seed for that which is incorruptible “in Christ.” This is the power and the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and all those who are “in Christ.” But, we are jumping ahead. However, it is important to understand that Christ’s self-emptying is a sacrificial act of God that underlies and exemplifies the sacramental nature of all creation. In other words, Christ’s self-emptying is a sacrificial act of God by which the naturally visible is touched by the supernatural and invisible God. In so doing, God graces us with the gift of being able to perceive the spiritual and the invisible that is all around us. It is this gift of perception by which we can cry out, as did Isaiah, proclaiming, “I see the Lord…”

“The pathway to freedom, to the realized unity of our beings, lies and in fact is coextensive with the sacramental act of giving it away, making ‘self-giving’ the core gesture through which all the meaning, purpose, and nobility of our human life is ultimately conveyed”

Cynthia Bourgeault,

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, pg. 87

The incarnation, begun with Christ’s self-emptying, makes all life a sacramental experience by which we begin to find, see, and know God in the minutest details of everyday life. We come to realize the truth of what Ignatius of Loyola said, when he proclaimed that; “God is everywhere.” This is due to a continuous self-emptying of divine, life giving, new creation, flowing from infinite Love, which is even now being poured out on all creation. It is sacramental because invisible Love can now be seen through the visible manifestation of God in and through God’s incarnation, Christ Jesus.. The kenosis of Jesus Christ is of utmost importance to those who seek God because it is counterintuitive to the world’s way of thinking. For the direction of Kenosis is one of descent rather than ascent. The way to God is through self-emptying not self-ascension. This has a profound effect on our own personal spiritual formation. Christ self-emptied, in a sacrificial manner, because of God’s love for that which God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) created. This is all important as it teaches us that the way to a deeper relationship with God is the way of sacrificial loving that leads to a new way, a born again way, of living. Too often we try to fill ourselves with tools that will build us a stairway to heaven, which are in essence, very often, deceptively self-edifying and self-building. The concept of kenosis however tells us that it begins with love, which at its core is sacrificially self-emptying for the sake of others. This is the way of the Word, the way of Jesus Christ. Robert Mulholland Jr. stated it beautifully. “Spiritual formation is the process of becoming formed in the image of Christ for the sake of others.” This is the life of kenosis.

May God Bless You Always, Gene Yotka

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