Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent Humility

Humility is the only requirement for getting into the stable. The sad fact is that most will find this too demanding, and will pass the stable by with its animal stench and engagement scandal.

There are many ways to look at humility, but I wanted to reflect on a passage from Dallas Willard that I’ve been drinking from for the past few weeks.

. . . we must  humble ourselves and become like little children (Matt.  18:3–5). That means we must be turned around (“converted”) from the normal human attitude, the attitude that says we are in charge of our life and that we are quite competent and capable of managing it on our own.  Little children, on the other hand, come to others for guidance and help and simply presume upon them for it. They have no other option, and they do not think they do—in spite of occasional outbursts of what in adults might be called “self-will.”

Now, for many people, perhaps for most, that will simply be the end of the story. They are not going to humble themselves. That would be beneath their dignity. Or they may try to “negoti-ate a deal with God” in which they are still the ones in charge of their lives and just occasionally get a little help from him for some of their projects. It simply doesn’t work that way, however. They will never come to know the reality of the kingdom or the King if that remains their approach. Any efforts they make in such an approach will meet with a blank wall.

Jesus told a story about two men who went “to church” to pray (Luke 18:9–14). One thought very well of himself and “thanked God ” (can you believe it?) that he was not like other people— especially not like that crook the tax man, standing over there by himself. For his part, the tax man stood with downcast eyes, unwilling even to look up at heaven. He was deeply ashamed of himself. In agony he perhaps jerked out some of his own hair and repeatedly slapped himself (“beat his breast”), saying, “God, be merciful to me, a disgusting wretch! ” Jesus pointed out that the tax man went home accepted by God, while the other man did not. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled,”  he said, “but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” We need to ref lect deeply on what this says about the nature of God.

What is this about? Only the humble person will let God be God. Such people are realistic about who they actually are (none of Peter Berger’s “masks”). A proper sense of human sinfulness and inadequacy may bring people to humility, though for those still set against God, it will not do so. It will only make them more hostile and defiant toward God, and perhaps greater hypocrites, hiding who they really are. We don’t get God’s attention by doing him favors and “looking good.” He doesn’t need that. Through Isaiah God says, “But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word” (66:2). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” Proverbs says, “and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil” (3:5–6). Turning away from evil is itself an act of humility, for to choose evil is always a matter of doing what I want in dependence on me. (Knowing Christ Today, 151-2).

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