When we think of our search for God or spiritual truth, we instinctively look up. But if we’re paying attention, Christmas is telling us to look down. Or at least bend down.
Christmas is the story of how lowering our perspective to that of a helpless infant is the only way to see the true nature of life. And though we were all born as Jesus was, we grew out of that childlike perspective. Jesus never did. He held on to a point of view just three feet off the ground, seeing the true nature and presence of his Father in places we would never think to look from adult standing height. This is the real story of Christmas, of Jesus’ entire life.
Jesus called people with this perspective “poor in spirit.” Ancient Hebrews called them “anawim.” They are those who through the external circumstances of poverty and oppression or through a deep interior journey, learn to carry an attitude of poverty even if rich, realize their vulnerability and complete dependence on God—a power greater than themselves. They understand that they are only and ever in a position to receive, but without resentment or bitterness and with a deep sense of gratitude. Always willing to let any gifts given to them flow to everyone and everything around them, they are God’s delivery devices, clear conduits of whatever love and provision they receive.
This anawim heart is exactly what Jesus means by Kingdom—the ability to see and experience God’s presence and provision in our lives. It is at once the unselfconscious humility of knowing who we are and how we relate to each other and God, and the celebration of that knowing. It is also the only way to experience a God who also lives and views life from an unassuming point of view. Every person in the Christmas story who sees significance and truth in an abjectly poor and helpless infant—Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, Magi, Simeon, Anna—all had to find their anawim hearts before they could find their God.
For many of us, this has been another difficult year. And it would be naïve to assume that stepping across an imaginary line into a new year will make any immediate difference to circumstances we know will take time to change. But as if in preparation, Christmas is asking us if we can remember who we really are…vulnerable and dependent humans for whom no expense has been spared to keep us safe and bring us home.
It is up to each of us to rediscover the child in us who can see in a newborn infant the promise that others miss. To rediscover in our anawim hearts the hope that disarms us and brings us back out to play in our common humanity.
As if she were overhearing us, Kate Geiselman writes of such a moment with her infant daughter…
Now, as she lies beside me, I whisper to her in the pre-dawn darkness, “You will never know,” and as I look at her perfect, dimpled hand, I realize that she will never love me the same way I love her. Every mother loves more than she is loved. I feel no sadness or envy at this realization—it just comes to me as an absolute truth—like suddenly noticing that the sky is blue, and it has been all along, and I just haven’t been paying attention.
Pale light seeps in through the bedroom window. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to leave her. I bury my nose in the pink folds of her neck and inhale deeply. This will have to sustain me for the day, so I savor her scent, lingering as long as I can. Later, while I’m miles away, I will be able to summon it up during a rare, quiet moment and pretend that she is with me.
Fueled by baby-smell, I go to the window and open the blinds. The stars are fading, and the sky today is a crisp, clear blue.
Fueled by baby-smell…
Fueled by baby-smell, we can move out into the unknown and chaos of our lives and never lose sight of the beauty that is always equally present. Fueled by baby-smell, we can carry our attitude of poverty around with us as a scuba diver carries around oxygen. Fueled by baby-smell, we can live our lives never far from the remembrance of our own childlikeness that keeps us close to Jesus’ Way of living and loving.
This is the genius of the anawim and the reason Jesus never leaves his anawim roots. To see the world from three feet off the ground is to forever see it with the wonder, trust, and gratitude—the delight of a child that Jesus is telling us is itself the will of his Father in heaven. The word he used that we translate as will, sebyana, really means the desire, delight, pleasure, and deepest purpose of God—all as viewed from three feet off the ground. If we’re ever going to know God’s will, we have to look where he left it…in the nooks and crannies only visible from a child’s height.
This is the crux of the Christmas story.
Everything we do in life eventually brings us face to face with who we really are. And whether we accept it or not, who we are is anawim—as vulnerable and dependent as a newborn infant. It’s a terrible thing to be confronted with our own vulnerability. But once we’ve done all the kicking and screaming and fighting we can do to avoid it, if we become willing to accept it, more than that—embrace it and celebrate it, we will finally be free to be who we are. And more than that, we will be grateful to be who we are. Grateful we’ll be able to see where God put all our Christmas gifts…in those nooks and crannies we will only see from a vantage three feet off the ground.
At that moment, we will be anawim. And we will be home.