A few weeks ago I made this picture of a seagull. What is your opinion? Does he look as if he’s coming down to land or is he taking flight? The majority would say he’s coming to land, or if you like, coming down to earth. It’s a nature picture that in a way reflects what this season is all about. God coming down to earth in order to love us, befriend us, heal us and to reveal His merciful nature. That’s what makes Christianity so different from all the other great world religions. They are all about our search for God. Christianity is about God’s search for us. That’s why Jesus came in search of the lost.
The Christmas event of God coming down to earth finds a parallel in a story from the Middle-East of a wise and beloved king who wanted only what was best for his people. Sometimes he would disguise himself and wander through their streets in order to see life from their perspective. One day disguised as a poor villager he visited the public baths where people were enjoying time out and relaxation. The water in the baths was heated by a furnace in the cellar where one man was responsible for maintaining the comfort levels of the water. The king made his way to the man who was mostly on his own and tirelessly tended the furnace. They shared a meal together and as they became friends the visits became more frequent. No one had ever before come down to the level of the man in the basement or showed him such care and concern. For the first time he had a real sense of being loved and valued for who he was.
Then one day the king decided to reveal his true identity to his friend. It was a risky move because he feared he might be asked for special gifts or favors. Instead the kings new friend looked him in the eyes and said, ‘You left your comfortable palace to sit with me in this hot and dingy cellar. You ate my meager food and showed me you genuinely cared about what happens to me. On other people you might bestow rich gifts but to me you have given the greatest gifts of all. You have given me the gift of yourself and in doing so you have given me the gift of myself.
That’s one of the wonderful things about true love; it gives to us not just the other but it gives us back to ourselves. Then where there is real love there is no judgment. They say that love is blind but in fact it’s very perceptive. It sees clearly all the faults and failings of the beloved and yet is able to completely overlook them. In so doing it enables the other to genuinely love themselves.
There’s lots of talk and teaching today about the need to love ourselves, and this is where we all fall short, we are so prone to being harsh, critical and judgmental towards ourselves. All of this comes down to self-rejection and lies at the heart of all sin. Without an awareness of being loved by God as we are, how can we ever come to love ourselves in all our imperfections? It is only because we are so perfectly loved that we can love our selves perfectly.
This is first and foremost the greatest gift that God coming among us brings into our lives the ability to love ourselves. Before we ever need healing in any other way we need to be healed in relation to how we see ourselves. There is no loneliness like that of self-rejection and as Christ said to come into right relationship with ourselves is to be close to the Kingdom.
So many of us carry a deep sense of shame that cries out for healing, and shame is where we believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that when God was making us he must have been just practicing because he didn’t do a great job and we feel so deeply flawed. Very often this was deeply reinforced by being told as a child ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’ That was a lie but we believed it and so we are like baby elephants who never forget but as adults always remember the lie they were told while still babies and that it was never the truth in the first place.
Remember what the old man said to the king, ‘you didn’t just give me yourself you gave me myself.’ There’s just so much wisdom contained in that response. Love alone makes us feel loveable and love alone makes us feel good enough. The opposite to feeling good enough is to feel unworthy and for some reason we Catholics have almost developed never feeling good enough into an art form. We have capitalized on unworthiness in a manner that is most detrimental to our mental health and well-being, to say nothing of our spiritual life. To accept that we are loved by God is to let go of all unworthiness, just as we would dispose of useless rubbish that smells and takes up valuable space. To put it another way, if we see ourselves through the eyes of our beloved then there is absolutely no room for feeling unworthy so if we are feeling unworthy we must be looking in the wrong direction.
Similarly in relation to that troublesome emotion we call guilt. The voice of conscience may well have reason to make us feel guilty but the voice of Spirit always whispers encouragement that where sin abounds mercy and forgiveness abounds all the more. The Catholic Church that most of us grew up with could well have been a travel agent for organizing guilt trips because it specialized in sending its members on them. The breach of trivial rules and regulations, like eating meat on a Friday, breaking a fast and even normal sexual thoughts were classed in the same category as moral evil and deemed sufficient to send someone to hell for all eternity. How warped was that? Two men met in hell one day and talked about what got them there. One said he had committed murder and deserved to be punished. ‘You are very lucky,’ replied the other, ‘because I’m here for something that isn’t even a sin any more.’
Again knowing that we are loved allows us to cast aside all guilt feelings and even to look at our failures in a different light; as learning experiences on the journey: just as a child can only learn to walk by falling many many times. Even if our mistakes could be classed as VILE they are still Very Interesting Learning Experiences.
So to accept that I am a child of God, one who truly calls God my Father is to know that I am loved and cherished; it is to be healed of all negativity towards myself; it is to no longer see myself as not good enough or inferior in any way and finally it is to live a life that is completely free of guilt. What a privilege and wonder it is to live the reality of what it truly means to be a child of God.
No one can jump higher than his own stature. It was to reveal to us our true stature that the Son of God once came to us so that we can jump higher than we ever believed possible. Jesus was God’s idea of what each of us can be like.
It is the birth of that awareness even more than the historical birth of the Baby Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas.
This Christmas may you be blessed with friendship. May you learn to be a good friend to yourself. May you befriend your soul where there is love warmth and forgiveness.
May this change you, may it thaw the cold neglected parts of you. May you know how it feels to belong, may you value your friends,
May you be good to them and may they be there for you, May they bring blessings, challenges truth and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated but may you always be at home with yourself.