Sunday, December 24, 2017

Spirituality as Resistance: Humility

It has always been one of the core beliefs of my faith that resistance to the world’s ways is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It may also be at the heart of other faiths, but this is the one I know best and am steeped in. Between now and Epiphany Sunday on January 7 I will take one of the traditional themes of the season and relate it to our present day resistance to some difficult and troubling things happening around us. I don't believe we are to withdraw from the world, but rather engage with the world (in, not of the world) with the Word in mind.

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2017
Humility as Resistance

In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, 
but it seems that God continually chooses 
the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. 
If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. 
If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, 
then there's no danger that we will confuse God's work with our own, 
or God's glory with our own.
― Madeleine L'Engle, 

We seek power in a savior and instead are guided to a lowly manger. A baby has been born who, we are told, will throw the great from their thrones and let the oppressed go free.

We expect strength and self-assurance when God becomes human and yet we are told he is in a small out-of-the-way place like Bethlehem of Judea. A baby cries, like any baby, intuitively knowing that when they do that they will be heard.

We watch for armies and weapons to come to take the world back for God yet the most defenseless of humans is where we are led. A baby whose arms can hold nothing and whose legs can’t stand on their own is the unarmed Prince of Peace.

The paradox of Christmas is nowhere more apparent than tonight. The great sounds of music will peal with bells and instruments to proclaim a holy miracle. Pomp and pageantry will be the order of the night from all corners of the Christian faith. It will be anything but a sign of resistance. It may even look like the ceremony, spectacle, and trappings of worldly powers will have co-opted the night. Christianity has conquered the world. We dress up in our finest clothes, we venture into our places of worship to pay our yearly respect for something beyond our understanding, but still underpinning our hopes.

This is not a night known for humility- as resistance, revolution, or anything else.

But in that is the paradox we can so easily overlook. Mary’s song months before the birth talked about that:

…he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 51b-53)

Perhaps our first act on this night is one of confession for what we have turned this night into. But I think that would also miss the importance of the displays and ceremony. They are not just for us, they are for the world to see. They do not proclaim our greatness, they scatter the proud and bring down the powerful. They lift up the humble- the hungry and lost, the lonely and least with the hope, love, joy, and peace that we have been seeing throughout Advent. A little child IS leading us- a baby who has no choice but to be powerless and dependent, a baby who doesn’t know the word proud or control or self but who can only cry an unknowing cry.

It is when we are willing to live within the paradox of a humble baby who is God become flesh, that we can start to understand who we are. No, maybe it is not about understanding for if we could truly understand this night’s miracles, it would no longer be a night of miracles. By definition we cannot understand or explain what this night is about- other than perhaps to humble us for we, too, are the proud who need tone cast down from our self-made thrones where we have inaugurated ourselves as the saviors of the world.

There is the beginning of humility as resistance. To become as a little child in order to grow into a spiritually mature person of soul. “God humbled himself,” Paul said in Philippians. How can we do anything else.

  • Tonight, meditate on the presence of God in our world.
    • As a child.
  • To show us how important it is to simply be human.
    • Humility.
These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one's self.
To mind one's own business.
Not to want to manage other people's affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one's dignity.
To choose always the hardest.
― Mother Teresa

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