Today’s passage from Nouwen reads as follows:
“True ministry goes far beyond the giving of gifts. It requires the giving of self. That is the way of him who did not cling to his privileges but emptied himself to share our struggles. When God’s way becomes known to us, and practiced by us, hope emerges…”
In my youth (many years ago!) I thought I could best help others by giving them gifts – advice, opinions, instructions, practical help.
As the years went by, I thought I could best help others by giving them myself – my advice, my opinions, my presence, my being in control (and yes, please do laugh out loud at the lunacy of that – I do now!).
In recent times I’ve come to realise that I can’t help others. I have nothing intrinsic to me which can ever help others. I am increasingly aware that there is one thing, and one thing only, I can offer – and that is Jesus.
He is the source of all healing and life, not I.
He is the means of salvation, of healing, not I.
He is the utterly reliable, firm foundation upon which lives can be rebuilt, not I.
So how do I, do we, offer Jesus to others?
In my youth I thought that was done via ideas, thoughts, correct doctrine and assent to it. (The ABC of the Gospel – Admit that you’re a dirty rotten little sinner, Believe that Christ died to save you from your sins, Commit you life to Him and lo and behold, all your problems will disappear. May God forgive me for the times I pedalled that to others and possibly set back their journey to God by many years…)
In recent times I’ve come to realise that we are physical beings and that we meet Jesus in the physical. So yes, sometimes my physcal presence and an arm around the shoulders can communicate the presence of Jesus. Sometimes the smile in my eyes as I look at another can communicate the acceptance of Jesus for the other. And yes, sometimes the sharing of ideas can open the eyes of the other to new ways of realising the ever-presence of Jesus for us all. But please note – the focus is on meeting Jesus, not on meeting me. And sometimes I can best offer Jesus to others by leaving them space to meet Him on their own. Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, and not just at the Eucharist – every time we sit to eat a meal Jesus is with us. Jesus comes to us as light – every time we flick a light switch on, we can be reminded that Jesus lightens our darkness. Jesus comes to us in the song of the birds, reminding us that Abba Daddy God counts every hair on our head and cares for us. Jesus comes to us as we stand on the seashore in a stiff gale, watching the waves lash the shore, reminding us that He calms the storms in our lives and that with Him in our boat we are safe. We need to come to our senses, in the fullest meaning of that phrase – and there we will meet Jesus.
So maybe I’ve come full circle after all, come back to the idea that we give of self – by giving up any idea that we can help one iota in and of ourselves.
May God give us grace today to offer Jesus to others by our manner of life – whether by our presence and the quality of that presence or whether by our standing back and allowing the other space to find themselves and to find Jesus in that self-finding. That is Incarnation.
And here are other people posting on the Advent Book Club: