A child is born...

One of the beautiful things that I hold dear to my heart at this time of year is the tiny, vulnerable way God comes to us in the infant Jesus. The Christ Child is NOT powerful or commanding - he is small and insignificant in so many ways - and in this truth I find a place for hope. 

I, too, don't have much significance or power. For many years in ministry I fought against this: I wanted to be important and have influence over others. I wanted to change the course of events and make a difference in society. The sad thing, however, is that the harder I tried to make a difference, the less loving I was to myself or those I loved. It took a long time to learn that John the Baptist was right when he said, "I must decrease so that he might increase." Peterson's reworking of the Beatitudes make this clear:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

The second thing about the Lord coming as a child that brings me hope is this: because I am a child, I know that I am going to disappoint others - that is what happens during the growing up process - so it is vital that I keep reminding people in my church, my family and my world to learn to trust God more and depend on me less. This, too, was a challenge for a long time. I wanted to be needed and tried to make my presence essential. Most of the time these days, I know I am just the messenger even if in some settings others place unreal or burdensome expectations on their pastors. 

What I have learned to do is keep pointing to God: I cannot make things better, I cannot offer healing and I don't really know what to do most of the time. When I accept the expectations of others who want me to fix things, I both experience shame and disappointment because I inevitably let someone down. It happens over and over because now we see as through a glass darkly.When I am healthy and rested, however, I know that even this disappointment is just part of the rhythm of grace: I am not God, I am just the pastor who is a child of God. A wounded healer pointing towards God. To be sure, I keep trying to put away childish things, like St. Paul advised, but mostly I don't have the wisdom, stamina or discipline to do this consistently. Like a child, the best I can do is try to get out of the way knowing that it will take my whole life to make this happen in any consistent way. Psalm 131 gets it right:

O Lord, my eyes are not raised in haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters, 
  with things that are too high for me.
For I have quieted and stilled my soul, like a weaned child at her mother's breast, so is my soul quieted within me.
O Israel, trust in the Lord,
  from this time forth and evermore.

So as this fourth Sunday in Advent comes to a close, like Mary I am pondering all of these things in my heart. I trust that my spirit rejoices in God my savior. I believe in my heart that being a child is good enough even when it is incomplete. And I give thanks that the Lord comes to us all in the Christ child over and over again. For only such a tiny and fragile Savior gives me the hope that my vulnerable and incomplete parts are enough for this phase of the journey.



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