Monday, December 3, 2012

Humility and Love's Acceptance


"It's hard to be humble, when you're as great as I am."
Muhammad Ali

In my most recent sermon/post, I found myself concluding that

Saints are not the ones who always get it right. Rather, saints are those who always remember their great, great need of God. It is the humility of the saints that protects them from presumption and so keep their eyes waiting, watchful, responsive, fixed on the horizon of Christ’s returning.

In addition to believe this conclusion to be faithfully in conversation with the lessons appointed for the occasion - the 1st Sunday of Advent - I somewhat accidentally found the emphasis on humility echoing the language of that Sunday's collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It has been said that humility is almost too tricky to be helpful in practice because of the human tendency toward the extremes of self-loathing on the one hand and self-righteousness on the other: so humility is a kind of logical response to shortcomings and as damper to successes that have not proven themselves over time; that is, humility serves as an indicator of self-awareness in moral practice.

This operating definition of humility makes humility especially hard to talk about in Advent because Advent is no longer considered a strictly penitential season, and penitential seasons are when moral practice is most up for open conversation. Thus, that humility still comes up in our collects in Advent should make us question our presuppositions about humility.

The collect recalls us to the humility of Christ in his being born among us to Mary. The One without sin poured out such that the humility open to Christians becomes less self-loathing v. self-importance but rather life without God v. life united to him. And life united to God means life for the world as well. Advent calls Christians to the humility of love's acceptance.

All of which occasions my sharing a hymn that has become my daughter's favorite - one she asks me to sing to her at least three mornings a week - #277 - in the Hymnal 1982.

Sing of Mary, pure and lowly,
Virgin mother undefiled;
Sing of God's own Son most holy,
Who became her little child.
Fairest child of fairest mother,
God the Lord who came to earth,
Word made flesh, our very brother,
Takes our nature by his birth.

Sing of Jesus, son of Mary,
In the home at Nazareth.
Toil and labor cannot weary
Love enduring unto death.
Constant was the love he gave her,
Though he went forth from her side,
Forth to preach, and heal, and suffer,
Till on Calvary he died.

Glory be to God the Father;
Glory be to God the Son;
Glory be to God the Spirit;
Glory to the Three in One.
From the heart of blessed Mary,
From all saints the song ascends,
And the Church the strain re-echoes
Unto earth's remotest ends.

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