One of my favorite Christmas passages is one that few people might think of as a Christmas text: the Christ hymn in Philippians 2. In context, it reads:
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
I love this passage for how it deepens our understanding of BOTH the incarnation AND the atonement.
Anyone who says that substitutionary atonement is the only New Testament view needs to wrestle with this passage for a while. It clearly teaches what is termed the “moral” or “example” view of atonement: Jesus, by his self-emptying and self-sacrifice, gives us a model for the kinds of selfless, sacrificial lives that God wants us to live.
In the New Testament, atonement is a multifaceted, multidimensional thing. Substitutionary atonement IS part of the picture, but it’s not the whole picture. In fact, NT Wright’s new book takes on what he says is the flawed Christian understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system, to conclude that substitutionary atonement is not as ubiquitous (therefore not as central) as most Christian exegetes assume. I haven’t read the book yet, so I’ll reserve judgment.