Two weeks ago, Chris and I had the opportunity to attend our old home church here in Indiana. For me personally, as the service started and worship began I felt a sense of homecoming and belonging that was so refreshing. Larry, the pastor preaching that Sunday, talked about advent and the birth of our Savior. He brought the manger scene into today’s culture, painting a picture of the poverty and depravity of the place where Jesus entered into our world as a baby.
During the message, he used a phrase that has been stuck in my head ever since. He talked about how many of us sitting in the audience come from a ‘heritage of privilege’ which can make it difficult for us to really grasp the scene. I have been meditating a lot on what that means and how this reality has shaped my world view and my expectations in life. It became really clear to me that I, in fact, do come from a heritage of privilege as do many Americans. I have noticed, since that sermon, how my tolerance for and acceptance of difficulties that come in my life is a direct result of the privileges I have been afforded (shelter, food, education, toys, clothes, cars, and on and on…).
I have learned or been taught to expect success, expect opportunity, expect respect, expect fairness in life, and expect comfort. I expect God to take care of me in certain ways, mainly, continuing me on a path of privilege. Yet, there are so many people who work hard and do the right thing and life is not fair to them and they do not have comforts to enjoy. There are many advantages and benefits to having certain privileges but I am not sure privilege is always the best shaper of Godly character.
As Chris and I have tried to walk through the last few months embracing the difficulties and new challenges that have come, I needed to consistently remind myself that I chose to follow God into this. I chose to trust God a few months ago in leaving my worldly comforts behind and yet I realized that subconsciously I thought he would just replace them with other ‘comforts.’ I guess I didn’t really comprehend how difficult it would be to not have stability and security when I had grown so accustomed to these things.
Now, I am starting to get it. I am starting to learn how to see God in the difficulties and struggle, in the grunt work and the questioning and the….’who knows how this is going to work out’ moments. In thinking about these things in the context of my heritage of privilege, I realize God has to reteach me what is important to him. For me to have his heart for the poor he needs to bring new experiences into my life. I need to go back to the stable that was smelly and dirty and unsanitary and understand how that very thing connected Jesus to the people He came to save.
Imagine if the story of Christ’s birth had a different setting. Instead of a manger, what if he were born into a King’s house, stately and rich with velvet cloth wrapped around him and his own nursery to grow in. What if it was surrounded by huge walls and a gate? I wonder how the shepherds would have felt visiting him there, smelling of the fields and their sheep? What a different picture Jesus gives us of his heart by the choice to enter into our world through the lowliest method.
I think the more I understand this, the less I will pray for God to fix everything in my life and pray more that he will continue to allow me to experience difficulties so that my compassion and understanding of others would increase. I don’t want to just be waiting for the rescue, I want to be present where he has me and have the faith to soak up whatever it is he wants me to glean from the path he has me on.
Even as I write this, I have to laugh a little because this is an ongoing battle for me, as my flesh still wants the easy path but my heart wants the narrow one. I want God’s character but I wish there were shortcuts. Unfortunately, character only grows through testing and it can be dangerous to ask for the testing. It is even harder not to grumble when it comes, but this too, I hope, is part of the journey. This Christmas, I want to grasp the depth of Christ’s humility to leave his glory behind and enter our world in a dirty stable. I think then God can show me how to follow him in these steps, putting up my heritage of privilege for a little while and viewing life from a different angle, learning to find joy in the midst of uncertainty and embracing the opportunity to share in others struggles.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
He took the humble position of a slave
And was born as a human being.