“Never proud or self-inflated, love will not be animated
Love is small and love is naked
Gloria, this is how love comes”
— Nichole Nordeman, “How Love Comes”
“My ego is like a fortress.
I have built its walls
stone by stone
to hold out the invasion
of the love of God.
But I have stayed here long
enough. There is light,
over the barriers, Oh my God.
— Howard Thurman, “I Let Go of my Accumulations”
Even the most radical among us seems to soften on this day. We still crowd around trees and tear open packages. We gather around tables with family and friends. We celebrate on this day things we claim we possess, expressing gratitude of course, but nevertheless enshrining the illusion that the happiest moments in life are when we are surrounded by that which we can call “mine.”
Too often I have jumped into the pursuit of justice and equity the same a child leaps for the packages under a Christmas tree. My work. My cause. My support. My sacrifice. Mine. Mine. Mine.
Because if I don’t do this work, who will?
If I don’t inform these people, who will?
If I don’t show up, who will?
There’s something to be said for critically considering how each of us is invited to participate in the revolution, but let’s be clear: the work is not ours to own as if it were a personal merit badge. The invitation is open, but possession is demonic.
I am struck in particular this year by the second stanza of “O Holy Night”:
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger
Behold, your King. Before him lowly bend.
The invitation is not to come as experts warring for the cause, but to come as love–small and naked. Like Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-11).
I’m reminded that when we talk about following Christ in self-emptying love this has far too often been weaponized. Emptying self and denying self and obliterating self all becoming tragically synonymous.
But what if self-emptying didn’t mean “I have no needs or weaknesses” (insert GIF of dog sipping coffee in amid flames, “everything is fine”).What if self-emptying love means we know our needs, and trust that others can know them as well?
What if self-emptying love means we know our weakness and trust that others are not strangers to the struggle?
What if to self-empty first means we must be clear on the space we are standing?
Thurman talks about the ego as a fortress, built high and mighty to block out the love of God.
I have told myself every day in a million ways that I am so damn selfless and self-sufficient that grace no longer needs to apply. That love is no longer needed.
But revolution begins in a manger, Love small and naked.
Revolution continues with scars displayed with relish, and an invitation to touch wounds. So while every message today will attempt to tell you to reinforce the walls and close the gates of your fortress, to shore up the version of yourself that demands everything is fine or that you are a Very Capable Person–Thank You Very Much, revolution looks like letting love come close enough to be weak and wounded.
The miracle of Christmas isn’t so much that One was born, but that the One came to show us how to be with.
With is the miracle.
With is the revolution.
And with is something we can never claim as our own.