Posts Tagged ‘pain’

nativity on our mantel this Christmas

The countdown to Christmas: 5 days as I write this. Five more days of Advent, five more days of “Waiting”. In our Christian liturgical year, Advent is the season to wait, prepare, expect, hope …. For what? For the familiar story of the Birth of Christ?

In the secular calendar it is the time to bake, buy, donate, decorate, wrap, wreath, plan, party, give, get, drink, despair… As Christians, we would like to think that we have a different focus this time of year. I hope we do. But what are we waiting FOR? What are we preparing FOR? What are we hoping FOR?

hand carved olive wood from Israel

Maybe we are hoping for some little light to come on inside of us. Some flicker of adoration and recognition of The Holy. Some faint stirring of awe and worship alongside the angelic host. Some kind of connection to the reality that God is truly with us, that all we say we believe has a beginning somewhere, and it is Real. These strike me as good things to hope for.

Our congregation’s challenge for advent this year was to cultivate an inner quiet, a place of quiet rest amid the world’s busy-ness. Many of us took up the challenge to avoid the use of electricity each Sunday evening during advent — meaning no TV or computers; oil lamps and candles instead of lights (Christmas tree lights allowed!); quiet conversation and reading instead of video games… I have been glad for the encouragement to slow down, and for the encouragement of others as we experience this together. This focus has done its work in me, and created enough space for me to be still enough inside to begin to listen.

On Christmas, we celebrate the fact that one little baby’s birth into the world changed everything. I found that pondering the birth of Christ can blow your mind if you let it. On Christmas day, God Almighty, the Creator and Commander of the Universe, was content to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of us. Let it sink in. He was willing, for our sake, to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of us.

And to all who recognize Him, and receive Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God. We know and believe that through Jesus’ life and suffering and death on the cross, and by his resurrection, we are forgiven and purchased and redeemed and transformed, and that it is not for ourselves alone, but so that we may be His Body in the world. As He is birthed in each one of us, does this mean that He also gives us the gift, the right (the responsibility?) to suffer the humiliation as well? Is this, the gift of the humiliation of humanity, is this what we are waiting for?

I’ve been thinking about this. The gift that is offered to the world: the humiliation of becoming one of them.

Really?  As Jesus did, to be content to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of them??  Really??  I much prefer the comfort and dignity of somehow being better than them. At least I seem to think I do.  But it seems that here, at Christmas, God is inviting me to be willing, to be content to suffer to become one of…   And not simply becoming one; but as one, bringing also strength and hope. Having stumbled into God’s saving grace as a young adult and since then being guided by the gospels and good teaching in many churches, I understand the call on my life is one of love and service to others. There are many ways I try to live this out. Most of the time, with joy. Yet this is a new thought to me: bringing bags of donated groceries to the food pantry, I remain separate from them. Bringing meals to the sick, or doing an overwhelmed young mother’s laundry, I am still separate from them. Driving elders to their doctor appointments, I still remain separate from them. Piecing quilts for refugee camps or sending off school kits to the orphanage in Haiti, I am definitely separate from them. Dropping coins into an outstretched cup in the city, I am so separate from them. I am the one with something to give, the ability to do; they are the needy ones. Even Mother Teresa felt this. We are separated by the gap. When God sent his son to save us, he didn’t simply throw a life ring and call out to us to grab on. He jumped right into the swirling flood alongside us.

I’m not imaging that Jesus is expecting me to become homeless; but Lord, if you suffered that humiliation by setting aside your glory and becoming one of us, if that is how you loved us, then show me how to love. Slowly, like the wakening dawn, I realize.

Recently, I sat down with a young woman who was in deep distress. I was the counselor, she the counselee; there was the gap. In time she was able to tell me about sexual abuse by both her father and her brother when she was a little girl. As we wept together, I didn’t think about the gift I was able to bring – but I see it now. Because of my own story, my own suffering of molestation by both father and brother, my own humiliation, I was able to be content to suffer hers alongside. I was able to offer strength and hope, not from someplace “separate”, but as someone who also spent time in the swirling flood. With a humble, grateful heart, can I claim to offer thanks for the gift of suffering, if it allows me to be content to enter another’s humiliation? Is this a gift of love that we have to offer a hurting world? Can I say Thank You??

I know that all manner of good and important work is done because some of us have the resources and abilities to offer those who lack. This is a very good thing. And I believe that, as Christians, we also have been given certain, most likely unwelcome, gifts that allow us to offer a unique sort of love to those who are looking for it. The kind of love that comes only from being content to suffer (or to have suffered) the humiliation of becoming one of them.

I think of Peter, who brashly thought of himself as someone separate, unique — Even if everyone else goes, I will never fall away! he said – and was gently reminded of his desperate humanity by Jesus’ words to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” Peter knew about temptation, about failure, about the humiliation of becoming one of them. He went on to write in his first letter, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer all kinds of grief. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Even so, come, Lord Jesus. May I be content to let You be birthed in me.

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends and readers. Wishing you the truest riches of the grace of Christ, uniquely birthed in you.

part of our handmade folkart nativity


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