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Becoming a tiny tot: what we can learn from John the Baptist's humility
There are a lot of reasons to feel small. We want to embrace being tiny, since it seems like we will inevitably be that way. Fighting our tininess might actually shrink us further.
In the tininess of the World, God embraced our tininess and made his home in us. We are his tiny house.
People feel tiny because the world is oppressing them. I read this week that there were more mass shootings in the U.S. as days this year. That is amazing. Organizations like ISIS bewilder even the most pacifistic among us. We lack a sense of community as we define our own worldviews. Meanwhile, the great chasm between what our public officials are talking about and what we practically need grows. We think our tiny faith is useless when pitted against problems of the day, including climate change. We think our prayers don’t work. The New York Daily News actually profited off shrinking your faith earlier this week. Fresh off the California mass shooting, this was their front page on Thursday morning:
I might sound like a broken record because a few weeks ago I was talking about Joann Sfar who told people to stop praying for Paris because they didn’t need more religion. I keep hearing this and I keep wanting to talk back to it. I don’t think my prayers are meaningless platitudes, and one reason is because I back mine with action—it might be tiny action, but it still is important. The New York Daily News can’t take that from me. But the people around me kind of did. When I asked them what they thought about prayer; the discussion just devolved into a debate about legislation. I was embarrassed—how small are we?
You know, I believe in prayer and I think mine matter. But let me tell you something: it is hard to continue to believe that in an era that has this kind of hostility toward it! The New York Daily News isn’t known for its tact, but I am both angry when I read their malicious headlines—about me—and saddened. But I also wonder if what they are saying is right, somewhere in there too. My tiny faith is what gets me through it. May we encourage each other then and not bring one another down. May we edify each other and build up our faith, which can be fragile, instead of dousing it with cynicism. Let’s take care of one another. We’re the body of Christ.
God comes into our tininess as a tiny baby and saves us. He redeems our tininess, and makes it mean something greater than it can on its own. I think that’s it. I think that’s why you’re here tonight and why it works. It might not work for you individually, but maybe by worshiping together you can see yourself as something more than an individual.
I love C.S. Lewis talking about the fetus. The small, tiny, precious little growing baby. Especially this week, as we think of John the Baptist. John the Baptist, inside his mother’s womb, lept for joy when he sensed his cousin Jesus nearby. Here’s Luke 1:44.
“As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
So great that even little tiny John the Baptist was moved by God. He jumped for joy. I know a toddler who jumps for joy all the time. It is heartwarming and I am jealous of it. When we even jump for joy? What opportunities do we make for ourselves to do that? Are we so jaded that we’ve stopped? So cynical? So discouraged? So lonely? So “over it”? So mature? You have reasons to laugh, sing, jump for joy, and act like a child because Christmas is here and Jesus is being born. It is worth smiling about. We can definitely learn something from our kids. And we see that imagery all over our culture, like I’ve noted before. Here’s Nat King Cole:
“Tiny tots with their hearts all aglow / Will find it hard to sleep tonight / They know that Santa’s on his way / He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh / And every mother’s child is gonna spy to see if reindeer really know how to fly.”
The are tiny, but their hearts aren’t. They are full. I love it. It really does remind me of John the Baptist. When you begin to compare yourself to a child, developing that childlike faith, we can grow and open ourselves up to more; our tininess expands. I don’t think our society honors children very much, but I think everyone loves them and wants no harm to be done to them. In that way, we can kind of get the perfect balance between humility and reverence.
John the Baptist took that humility with him all throughout his adulthood. John the Baptist, this wild man living in the dessert, clothed in camel hair, eating locusts, and honey. He followed the old Mosaic law to the letter and I just want to note that the Israelites rarely did. He owned his tininess by submitting the a God greater than him, even in his daily life. He understood the heart of the law, while also mastering its details.
He doesn’t have to invent his own reality. He can be a part of something greater than he is. He is not down-trodden, insecure despite being humble. He is fulfilling a prophecy written before his time and he is participating, in an amazing way, in the greatest story and event in all of history. Even in his humble posture he made a way for the Lord and we are still talking about it. I don’t think you should be humble so that you are then glorified, but I don’t think that living out of your smallness from a posture of humility is a raw deal for those who are self-deprecating or something.
John learns how to get small enough without diminishing himself. I think we need to get that way too. Most of the time, I’m trying to pump you up and make you feel good about who you are and what we’re doing. But sometimes, we can take that too far.
John knows who he is, he’s not needlessly comparing himself to a slug or a crab or a worm. There’s more to his humility than just self-hate. It’s deeper and fuller than that. His great saying, “He must increase, I must increase” is a great call to us. In what ways are we too big? Too cocky? Too arrogant? Too prideful? Too beyond criticism? What ways do we need to exercise John’s and Jesus’ humility?