By Jan Wood
I love the depictions of the nativity scene throughout the centuries. I can sit with a painting and be drawn into the emotions of that first revelation that God was doing something special. I feel my body bending near and am aware that the posture of Christmas is to be on bended knee.
We Americans have cultivated and admire the postures of standing tall and erect, of striding through life humbled by nothing, stiff-necked and proud. Our broken human nature always tempts us to think we are our own god. That we are the masters of our fate. That we can be anything we want if we try hard enough. Americans have cultivated the myth of being #1 like a religious conviction. We can do no wrong. We have nothing to learn from other nations or peoples. What we do and think is automatically right and the best. We have honed our narcissistic arrogance like a finely tuned instrument. We bow to no one. We even expect God to bless our greatness.
Jesus’ coming into the world calls us into a different place inwardly and outwardly. The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the human experience. The very love of God bent down into the confines of time and space. The image of God moved from ancient, lofty and unattainable to small, fragile and new. And in coming to the remembrance of that first Christmas, it calls us to come on bended knee.
The Bended Knee of Gratefulness
The gift of God-wrapped-up-in-flesh is so incredible! Biblically we get to see how the Spirit of God moves and acts and thinks in this ordinary life. We get to hear the welcome of God. We get to see love-in-action that cuts through our brokenness and heals our hearts and bodies. Gloriously, the Presence of Christ didn’t disappear with Jesus’ physical death. Jesus is a perceptible presence that delights to live life with each of us. Jesus invites us into friendship and partnership that gives pleasure and meaning to our lives. The ideas of Jesus often trap us in a web of theology and religiosity that obscures this joy. But the simplicity of getting to love the child who becomes your best friend brings us to our knees with hearts overflowing with gratefulness.
The Bended Knee of Surrender
Surrender is an uncomfortable word, but there is great release and freedom when we give up the delusions of our ego and just be who we are. We have become deeply convinced by our culture that each one of us is “not enough.” Education, advertising, many churches are all based on the persistent message that you need to be more than you are. One of the pieces of the good news of the Gospel is that we can drop the burden of always needing to be more than we are.
We simply let go of the striving and see what God’s love will do with us. For some, this letting go feels like a pitched battle of the will. I guess that is how it was for Jacob wrestling with God. (Genesis 32:22-32) For others, like Jesus’ mother, Mary, it was a simple, profound act of trust. (Luke 1:26-38) For others it feels like an incredible permission to let go of the strivings that are killing us. In any case, we come to the hope of Christmas with bended knees of surrender.
The Bended Knee of Repentance
I don’t know how it happened, but somehow repentance has become an act of last resort. Even dear people in the community of faith shy away from any call to repentance. I guess it is because we have mistakenly paired repentance with condemnation. You can almost hear the earnestness is Jesus’ voice as he says, I didn’t come to condemn you. I came to rescue you. (John 3:16-17) I came to lead you into joy. (John 15:11) Truth is that all of us live out both the glory and the brokenness of who we are. We all blow it. We fall short of being the people we so want to be. God isn’t mad that we aren’t perfect. It is only maddening when we won’t live and breathe humility. Repentance is intended to be a life-saving, hair-trigger response to our normal living. We come to the healing of Jesus’ coming in the knee-bending, heart-cleansing humility of repentance.
The Bended Knee of Serving
One of the enduring images of serving in the New Testament is Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. (John 13:1-17) The act of washing another’s feet requires being on bended knee. Unlike philanthropy that can be done from above, the servanthood that Jesus call us to is marked by humbly offering ourselves in the service of others. In fact, the measurement of greatness is directly connected to the measurement of our serving. (Matthew 25:36-36) We serve others with our giftedness, with our resources, with our accessibility. We bend low to lift others up. We come to the newly-enfleshed expression of God with the gift of ourselves in the service of God’s love for all.
So in this blessed season of remembrance of God’s enduring love that accompanies us always, may we discover the liberation and joy of the bended knee.