Humility for the Holidays

For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15 (NRSV)

How quickly we go looking for God in the glorious and beautiful, towed behind the vehicle of our own pride.  Surely God deserves the loftiest of hiding places.  He deserves streets of gold and a sky that never greys.  But he did not consider his luxury something he should ceaselessly hold onto.  Instead, his first resting place, shall we say his first throne, was in a feeding trough.  Imagine the smell of stale hay and unremoved manure.  Imagine the meager lighting—no Hallmark nativity glow.  Imagine the newborn screech, the fluids, and the tenderness of a new life.  He subjected himself to the lowliest of settings, because that is endemic to his nature.  What child is this? This is the humble God we serve and rejoice over; the God who has come to meet us in our mess; the God who knew that the path to being with us must go through the humblest of experiences. 

This week we begin to contemplate fasting as a practice of discipleship.  Fasting is at least partially about humility.[1]  It reminds us that our deepest need is this humble God.  It reminds us that all of our clamoring to provide for ourselves does not meet the fullness of our needs.  It illustrates all the circumstances we cannot undo, all the brokenness we and our pride are powerless to heal.  It fixes our eyes on the humble one, who need not be humble. It encourages us to inject him and his humility into the toughest of situations.  Him for food.  Him for healing.  Him for hope.  Him for inspiration.  Him for solidarity.  Him to wipe away tears.  Our limitedness is brought to bear that we might participate in his limitless, humble grace. Even more, that this humble grace might become who we are.  

Two things have particularly bothered me about the recent events in Ferguson, Mo. and how some of our brothers and sisters have reacted.  First, the pride we have utilized to suggest that we know just how to fix a complicated situation hundreds of miles away from our keyboards.  Second, the prideful attitude that has led us to dismiss human pain.[2]  I do not wish to pontificate on the subject or beleaguer it with my personal biases.[3]  Instead, I just want to use it to help us think about the convenience and destructiveness of pride—especially as it manifests itself online.  I think fasting will remind us that our own human wisdom is frail and compel us to follow the path of humble grace in every situation.  For the path of humble grace, sustained by the Spirit of Christ is the path of resurrection and reconciliation.  

The above passage from Isaiah comes in the midst of a people’s suffering.  They have suffered things they deserved and many things they did not.  And God, the Holy One, says that he will not stay aloof in his eternal glory, but will come and reside in the humble places.  Fasting inflicts intentional suffering on our stomach and invites us to find that this God of humility, this God of grace and comfort is not far from us. His presence revives us, soothes the suffering [even if it doesn’t go away], and teaches us a new way; a way that is just, compassionate, and humble.  

Let us fast.  For we are not glorious gods.  We are not mythic heroes.  We are not the world’s problem solvers.[4]  We cannot meet our own need, much less the needs of those in great controversy.  Let us fast and look to the author of our faith and see that the way forward in every situation is not in pride and might, but in humble grace.   

My favorite Christmas passage:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of


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


even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:4-8

[1] It’s about a lot of things, but I think humility is a uniting thread.  It’s about justice too, which we’ll encounter on Sunday.  It’s about longing for God.  It’s about creating space to see the direction of our momentum.  But none of these are worth much if you take the humility out of the practice. As Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Mt. 6:16, NIV).
[2] Pride burns down human relationships.  Pride incapacitates civility.  Pride leads to poor judgment.  Pride breaks the windows of the soul.  Pride makes everyone feel unsafe.
[3] Lord knows, we don’t need another person trying to fix it with empty words. This was the last place I expected to find reasonable reflections on the events, but NFL player Ben Watson wrote a synopsis of what I think a reasoned, humble response might actually look like for people who don’t live in Ferguson/Saint Louis area.  You probably have to be a Facebook user to see it, but here’s the link.
[4] A caveat: I am not arguing that we be passive. Humility is not a synonym for passivity.  I am urging us to slow down, admit that our pride ever wants to lead the way, reflect on Christ’s humble grace, and then act out of the character of Christ.  Your broken relationship with your mom, or brother, or child, how often do you let pride lead?  And how well does that work?  Does it bear the fruit of reconciliation?  Fasting presses a big REFRESH button for our attitude and perspective. 


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