Saturday, January 19, 2008

To dwell with the contrite and lowly

Over Advent and Christmastide, I had been reading a collection of Advent and Christmas sermons by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I thought I’d pass along some comforting insights of his into the Christmas message, the news that God chose not a mighty king and lord, with clean nails and an Armani suit and perfect teeth, but a lowly baby in a feed trough. As he promises to dwell with and comfort those who weep over their contemptible sin (Isaiah 57:15) and raise up the poor and oppressed (Luke 1:51-53) so did he fulfill those promises at Christmas.

God is not ashamed to be with those of humble state. . . . He loves the lost, the forgotten, the insignificant, the outcasts, the weak, and the broken. Where men say, “lost,” he says “found;” where men say, “condemned,” he says, “redeemed;” where men say, “no,” he says “yes.” Where men look with indifference or superiority, he looks with burning love, such as nowhere else is to be found. Where men say, “contemptible!,” God cries, “blessed.” When we reach a point in our lives at which we are not only ashamed of ourselves, but believe God is ashamed of us too, when we feel so far from God, more than we have ever felt in our lives, then and precisely then, God is nearer to us than he has ever been. It is then that he breaks into our lives. It is then that he lets us know that the feeling of despair is taken away from us, so that we may grasp the wonder of his love, his nearness to us, and his grace. (From a sermon based on Luke 1:46-55; December 17, 1933)

I think this is powerful. Right when we’ve been so humbled and crushed under the burden of our sin, when we think we are the most wretched of all beings and worthy of nothing but eternal contempt—right here is God near to us, is God for us. In love for us he was disfigured and despised and himself bore the full weight of our transgressions (Isaiah 52:13—53:6). How can we run away from him in when our ugliness comes to light? How can we flee his open arms, thinking that we’re not lovely enough to be loved? I wish I had the answer to such doubting questions—because I do flee in disbelief.

And from a sermon on Isaiah 9:6-7:

Precisely in the lowliness and weakness of the child is the beginning of his taking the government of all the world upon him. The head of the house indicates his government over the house by the key which he hands over his shoulder. That shows that he has the authority to open or shut the door, to let people in or to show them out, as he will. And that is also the way that the cross over his shoulder shows his authority as governor. He opens to those whose sins he forgives, and he shuts out the proud. That is the nature of the child’s government, that he receives the humble, the lowly and sinners, bearing their burden, but he rejects and brings to nothing the proud, the high and the mighty, the self-righteous. (Christmas 1940)

1 comment:

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

We run precisely because we don’t want to be as ugly and unlovable as we are; we run thinking we can surely improve ourselves and then the humiliation of being ourselves will be less; we run because of pride, because we don’t want to believe what we see; it is too horrible and we really hope we are better than that