“Through the Door of Humility”
A meditation for Christmas Eve
Preached by Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
At Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
On December 24th, 2012
Back in January of 2006,
When I’d been at Immanuel for less than a year,
My wife Judith and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land
With a group of other pastors.
In seven packed days,
We saw many of the sites associated with the stories we tell of Jesus’ life.
It was quite an adventure.
We went to Jerusalem, that seat of royal and religious power during his day
And continuing conflict in our own,
Where Jesus suffered and died and we trust rose again
And where he spoke of how things we count on fall apart;
We went to the wilderness near Jordan,
Where Jesus’ cousin John called people to prepare the way of the Lord
And where Jesus faced his own temptations
In a place with no sign posts;
We went to Nazareth, the once tiny town where Jesus grew up and
Where his mother Mary first received the news that she was going to bear
God’s Incarnate Love into the world;
And we passed through the hills of Judea,
where Mary went to be with her kinswoman Elizabeth
to receive confirmation that what the angel told her could be trusted,
that she was not alone, and moreover, that she had a song to sing.
Of course, we also went to Bethlehem.
Each site we visited had its own power, its own way
of grounding the stories of scripture in the physicality of space
bringing body and soul together,
But I’ll never forget the day we went to the town of Jesus’ birth.
To get into Bethlehem, we had to go through the wall separating
Israel proper from the West Bank.
In doing so, we had to pass through a military checkpoint,
manned by soldiers with Uzis slung over their shoulders.
Whatever you think about the necessity of that wall and that weaponry,
the truth is we had to pass through them to get
to the town where Jesus was born.
They served as a stark reminder that we live in a divided and violent world
—just as Jesus did.
Not that we need any reminding after Sandy Hook and Syria, mind you.
Anyway, once we entered Bethlehem,
we proceeded directly to the Church of the Nativity,
which long ago was built over the very spot, so they say,
where the infant Jesus came into the world
(but how anyone can know that for certain, I’m not sure).
That’s when I discovered for the first time that
in order to enter that church,
worshipers must pass through what is known as The Door of Humility.
Our guide told us that for a long time,
that door was the only way into the building,
What you need to know about that door is that it’s not very tall.
Anyone larger than say, a young child or a maybe a Hobbit,
has to stoop at least a bit
to gain access.
You can well imagine that a 6 foot 4 inch person like me
had to bend nearly in half.
I just about had to get on my hands and knees to make it through.
After all of that work to get to Bethlehem,
going on pilgrimage,
flying thousands of miles,
passing through a wall of partition
and a military checkpoint
The final hurdle to get to the place where Jesus was born
Was not something to leap.
It was to bow, to humble myself, to basically get on my knees.
Somehow that seems fitting, doesn’t it?
Because the story we tell about Jesus’ birth reminds us
That when the time came for Mary to deliver Jesus,
not long after they had arrived in Bethlehem for the census,
there was no room for them in the inn.
Not in the Four Seasons,
not in the Sheraton Premiere,
not even in the Motel 6.
The only space available was a humble stable, perhaps a cave
with barn animals and their baaing and mooing..
And when the one we hail as God in human flesh was born
They laid him in a manger, a feed trough for animals.
On top of that, the first people to hear the news of his birth,
which was good news for all people,
Were the shepherds, menial laborers,
one step below the common folk,
You can’t get much more humble than that.
All of this—the door, the shepherds,
the idea that God Godself became humble,
to the point of being born in the filth and muck of a stable
—suggests that the best way—perhaps the only way—
to fully appreciate the Mystery of the Incarnation
Is to humble yourself…
If you know the etymology of the word humility
You know that that it
is intimately connected to humanity
and to humus, which means dirt.
To be humble is to acknowledge our human limitations and fallibility.
It is to also recognize that we’re all finally made of the same stuff:
Wayne LaPierre and Michael Moore,
Jim Wallis and James Dobson,
Ann Coulter and Rachel Maddow,
The C.E.O. and the custodian
Christopher Hitchens and Pat Robertson
Adam Lanza and those he killed,
And, of course
People of every race, religion, and nationality.
We’re all human beings.
Now that doesn’t mean we discard notions of right and wrong,
Or fail to stand up for what we believe
Or to work for policies we think are right
Or to provide consequences for actions.
It does, however, mean that we never forget how we’re all connected
in this intricate web of humanity and life on earth,
and that we back away from demonizing others
especially in this season.
A week ago I began a new adventure.
I started meeting with a spiritual director to keep me intentionally focused
On my relationship with God.
Not on other people’s relationship with God,
But my relationship with God.
She had me tell the story of my faith journey to this point.
Then she lit a candle and read some scripture.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it.”
Then my spiritual director asked me to sit in silence,
to meditate and pay attention to what
welled up from my soul.
After what seemed like an eternity, she invited me to share what came to me.
I began to talk about
a particular national figure whose theology I think is terribly destructive
a person who’d made comments about Sandy Hook
Being God’s judgment on us as nation…
I talked about how wrong I thought he was…
I went on for some time
Then I went on some more….
Finally my spiritual director asked me a pointed question.
Can you admit that he is just as much a child of God as you are?
That there is light and darkness in each of you?
Can you say,
“For God so loved the person I disagree vehemently with
That God gave God’s only Son for him?”
She was inviting me to walk through the door of humility again.
I stooped and I entered.
And for just a moment I was in the stable
With James Dobson and Jim Wallis
And Ann Coulter and Rachel Maddow
And Wayne LaPierre and Michael Moore.
Together we were beholding the light of the world
The Word of Love made flesh
For ALL people.
The late Denise Levertov wrote a poem
Called On the Mystery of the Incarnation
Which I think speaks to humility
And the way we have been brought to our knees this December
By the violence in Newtown.
It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
And that Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
And the Word’s name was Love.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.