Henry Ward Beecher wrote: “Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry [one] above others for [their] own solitary glory. [One] is greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of [their] own.”
I got that — not from reading Henry Ward Beecher — but from the book and the movie Wonder, which has enthusiastically made the rounds in our household, and Katie and I saw just recently. And what a Christmas message it is! (Go see Wonder in these Twelve Days of Christmas, if you haven’t already. It’s a way to really get into the ‘incarnation celebration’ we have before us.)
“Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry [one] above others for [their] own solitary glory. [One] is greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of [their] own.”
Grace to you and peace from Jesus who comes to us this holy night in peace. AMEN.
It is perhaps the hardest thing in the world, dealing with a bully. I’m thinking more about bullies these days, have encountered the story Wonder...but also reflecting on our lives and our world...
I’ve had a few experiences myself, one in high school that I’ll never forget. The visceral feelings come back even now, just thinking about it: heart racing, sweat beading down, ready for anything and nothing at the same time — not sure if our stand-off was going to end in fists swinging, and blood dripping, or what. He was way bigger and stronger than I was, had this threatening smirk, big ol’ biceps, veins sticking out…But he was making fun of a friend of mine in the weight room, and something in me kind of snapped. And I couldn’t take it anymore and stay quiet. I mouthed off back at him.
And probably, fortunately it ended the way it should have, anti-climactically, with a coach breaking up our heated stare-down. But I didn’t sleep well that night, and I fretted about that bully for a long time after, even while nothing ever happened again.
Bullies are tough, on one hand: They can really eat you up, physically for sure, but I think the other wounds they inflict can last even longer: They can embarrass you, get others laughing at you too. They can make you cry just with their quick words, or a mean picture that they draw. They can even make you turn on yourself — start to cut yourself down, make you laugh along with everyone...at yourself.
If you’ve never been bullied, praise God.
But the Christmas story is for anyone who’s been bullied.
I recently asked my kids how they deal with bullies and bad dreams in these tough times...and one of the things Katie (our 8 year old) said was “stay calm and let an angel help you.” )(Maybe that coach?) This Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke is for anyone who’s been bullied, anyone who’s been haunted by cruelty.
Those shepherds in the field were pretty beat up, bullied, haunted by a cruel world — hearts pounding with anxiety about how they’d get their next meal, paycheck, or rent paid. Ready for anything and nothing at the same time. Shepherding was not an easy life. They were on the edges. They were nobodies. But an angel came, and they stayed calm, and they let that angel help.
Micah (our 12 year old) — when I asked him how he deals with bullies — mentioned “laughing and singing helps,” and he also said, “Remember and give thanks for your family.”
Do you see all these components in our Christmas celebration here at church this evening? As we gather, and try to stay calm, even as worries creep in all the time, even as bullies can haunt. As we pause to reflect on the multitude of angels who have come to our aid over the years? Coaches, friends, family members, mentors, spiritual guides, rainbows, dogs, authors and actors. As we gather at the manger of the one “whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own”? In this holy place, laughing and singing help, and we give thanks for our family of faith too.
God’s strength is not made manifest in the big-bully muscles of world leaders or cool-group leaders, not in the mean words or the name-calling, not in threatening smirks or frightening stare-downs, and certainly not in fists flying. God’s divine power is instead made manifest in a baby. In peace.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out: “God is in the manger!” How do you feel about that? This morning here, we talked about John’s Gospel, where we find and confess this Jesus is God, not just God’s son. One God, three persons. God is in the manger. The word becomes flesh and dwells among us! This almighty God has humbled, shrunk all the way down to become the child of a poor refugee couple, born in the middle of nowhere in the middle of nowhere! A stable, a manger. Revealed first to bullied and scared shepherds.
This God in the manger is strength that “carries up hearts”. Christ. Is. Born. To you. For you. In you.
Let’s laugh, let’s sing, let’s let angels help us, let’s stay calm, and let’s share this Good News with everyone:
For God is here today. AMEN.