This Christmas eve, I feel responsible.
I make cookies, and I wrap gifts in various sheets of burnished paper, and I struggle for traction with wheels churning through sticky slush.
In the world, people starve. Disease spreads where sanitation fails. The strong oppress the weak, and the stronger oppress the strong. They cry. We cry. We listen. They die.
The world is so big. Or perhaps it is small, and I am simply so much smaller. I am reminded some days of my smallness; today, it makes me indefatigable in my thirst to be more so the world might have more.
Tonight, I feel that I don’t know enough. But I know more than I did once. And my knowledge, coupled with my humanity, must count for something. Seventeen years of formal education, an inveterate love of learning: surely, if hoarded, these things are meaningless. A mountain of gifts untouched is a graveyard. I’ve read enough fantasy novels to understand what dragons are.
It is good to be good. I believe that much to be true. But sometimes, good feels a meager gift to lay, shame-faced, at the foot of the manger. I kneel and my cheekbones prickle. Though I once felt that I had been given a middle-class existence and a pHD potential so that I could set upon the Hero’s Journey, I have fallen too far to pretending I have nothing to give.
I have been taught that I am not the central character of the narrative.
Perhaps this portends the matter of my life to be even larger. My life is less significant than I had thought. The import of my responsibility is therefore far greater. Because I am a secondary character, a redshirt, a Wilhelm scream that perishes after two point seven seconds of screen time, I am that much more answerable to my part in the story. I am not the hero, and so who am I to try to write an individual spin-off from the plot?
Maybe this is what I’m trying to say…
There’s a song by All Sons & Daughters called “All the Poor and Powerless.”
For years, I thought of this song as a compelling illustration of the way in which Christ’s presence yields fullness in the lives of the poor and the powerless: in short, in the lives of people who are not like me.
“How lucky I am,” said the Pharisee, “that I am not like this tax collector.”
Tonight, this Advent, I realize that I am poor. I am powerless. I am shouting into the void, and there isn’t even an echo.
The flames grow hotter, and I have an eyedropper full of water that I’m using to fill up my own cup.
It will be tempting for you, I think, to remind me that small acts of faithfulness are indeed acts of God.
It will be tempting to remind me that the weight of the world cannot fall on me alone.
But tonight, I need to be distressed.
Tonight, I need to remember that once, when the world felt pain that he could not feel, my God compressed the expanse of his grandeur into sticky human skin, so that we would not be alone in being human.
Shout it, the bridge of the song says over and over, Go on and scream it from the mountains / Go on and tell it to the masses / That he is God.
My long-time favorite verse from the Bible has been Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
Is it possible that as we run and scream the news of a Savior’s birth, that we are called to do it wildly, with raw throats snapped to hoarseness, while bombs explode around us and flares glow red on our sweaty cheeks?
We are called to know the world, to care for it, and to respond as our Savior did, by wrapping ourselves in the protoplasm of that which we cannot yet understand, because of love and human responsibility.
We are responsible, aren’t we, for the way the world turns out?
I am poor and I am powerless.
But I am responsible. And he is God.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.