Formation

Gifting the Incarnation of Christ: A Spiritual Discipline for Christmas

Christmas is so wonderful, and yet also exhausting and stressful.  We primarily shop, decorate, cook, see family and friends, and attend special Christmas services. The celebratory month with lights and presents and good food is meant to create joy in us for the gift of the Christ child. Yet it all seems so far removed from the humbling of God the Son to helpless newborn.

What is lacking in the traditions of Christmas is a spiritual discipline which reminds us of the most important part of the story, the incarnation of Almighty God into human flesh. How do lights and ornaments and presents capture anything of the mystery of Christ, “who although he existed in the form of God…emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7)?

Christmas traditions lack a spiritual discipline which reminds us of the incarnation. Click To Tweet

Four Steps to Giving the Gift of Incarnation

I’d like to suggest a Christmas spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is a focused, sacrificial activity which develops Christlikeness within us. We do it with intent, and it costs us something. We go out of our way to put Christ at the center rather than ourselves. The Spirit moves.

So for this season as God the Son humbled himself to be present to us, we would humble ourselves to be incarnationally present to another.  We would become a graceful presence to someone ‘alien’ to us by spending time with them, asking to hear their story, and by truly listening and receiving it. The discipline, the Gift of Incarnational Presence, might look like this:

  • Pray and then choose someone who is the opposite of you. Choose someone who creates fear or dislike or anger in you. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, truly listen to the story of someone across the aisle. If you are a white male or white woman, listen to the story of a black or Asian woman. If you are straight, be a graceful presence and listen to an LGBTQ person. If you love the church, listen to a person who wouldn’t grace the doors of a church. As a Christian, listen to a Jewish or Hindu or Muslim person. Discern in prayer and then choose someone “alien” to you.
  • Ask for an hour of their time. Say something like this: “Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I’m trying to listen to others this Christmas season. I’d like to hear the story about your life. I’d like to know what matters to you and why. I promise not to comment or ask questions, except to encourage you. I really want to listen.”
  • Listen, fully present. When Jesus humbled himself to be the incarnational presence of God to us, he modeled the posture you are to take while listening to another. It doesn’t matter what disgust, anger, distancing, or frustration you might experience with their story, you are still the incarnational presence of Christ to them by fully listening without comment. You take the form of a slave, not the form of a master.
  • Thank them. After the story-telling and the gift of their time, thank them warmly. Then on your own, pray for them. Bring them before God in thanksgiving. Reflect on what you learned about yourself and Christ. The time you spent was an offering, a remembrance of Christ’s graceful presence with you.
Four Steps to Giving the Gift of Incarnation this Christmas Click To Tweet

A Street Musician’s Blessing

I experienced the power of this spiritual discipline when I spent an hour in downtown Portland talking with a man who lived on the streets. Paul was sitting outside Starbucks in Pioneer Square playing his guitar. I sat by him and said, “You must be a street musician. How long have you been playing?” He answered, “30 years on the streets of Portland.” I introduced myself, and we shook hands. Then he talked with me about Portland, his kids, downtown life, and his story going from a construction worker to a homeless person because of alcoholism. Paul was proud to be clean and sober for 2 years.

Paul asked me how I was, and I shared that I was a little discouraged at the time. In the end I asked him if he would play me his favorite song, and he played “Dear Prudence,” a song written and recorded by the Beatles in 1968, but he substituted “MaryKate” for “Prudence.”

Dear MaryKate, won’t you come out to play?
Dear MaryKate, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear MaryKate, won’t you come out to play?

Dear MaryKate, open up your eyes
Dear MaryKate, see the sunny skies
The wind is low, the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear MaryKate, won’t you open up your eyes?

Look around round
Look around round round
Look around

Dear MaryKate, let me see you smile
Dear MaryKate, like a little child
The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile again
Dear MaryKate, won’t you let me see you smile?

Dear MaryKate, won’t you come out to play?
Dear MaryKate, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear MaryKate, won’t you come out to play?

Paul then stood up and literally blessed me. He prayed for me. I was deeply moved. Here I was trying to be Christ to him, and he blessed me. He became like Christ to me.

Not every experience will be like this one, but it illustrates that when we are incarnationally present to someone different from ourselves, the Spirit shows up and things happen. The Spirit within us moves as with child, because without thought of gain, we gifted Christ’s incarnational presence to another.

*The photo is of a series with Steve Buscemi interviewing persons on a park bench. Something happens when people talk in a public space. 

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