A couple of weeks ago I walked into the conference room on a Sunday morning to grab myself some coffee. Sitting around the conference table were the faithful parishioners who meet on Sunday mornings for Bible Study. They often have some goodies, too, and when I pass by they willingly share some of their stuff with me. It is always a joy to see them and share a good laugh.
They are presently reading a book, Sabbath. They tell me it’s a wonderful book. Well, the moment I walked into the conference room that Sunday morning, I was greeted with their usual enthusiasm, along with the sharing of a story they had just read.
There was once a rabbi who, overcome with a sense of humility before God’s magnificent creation, threw himself before the altar of the temple and cried, “I am nobody! I am nobody!”
The cantor, observing the rabbi from the rear of the synagogue, was moved by the rabbi’s humility and devotion. He, too, joined the rabbi at the altar, crying, “I am nobody! I am nobody!”
Then the janitor, sweeping the floors in the hall, heard the cries of the two religious men and similarly moved by their devotion, also joined them at the altar crying out, “I am nobody! I am nobody!”
At which point the cantor turned to the rabbi and, indicating the janitor, remarked, “Look who thinks he’s nobody.”
I burst out laughing - I laughed so hard. “That was a really good joke,” I remarked. But beyond the idea of a good joke is a serious matter that addresses how we look at ourselves or perceive each other - even in our often sinful and pathetic selves:
How do I see you? What gifts do I see in you? What is the beauty that I see in you or in myself? How do I see myself? What gifts do I possess? Do I consider myself or my gifts of more value than yours?
Difficult, but important, questions. If only I can see myself in you. If only I can recognize the gift of you as being of equal value as the gift of me. If only we can be sincere about how valuable the other is, if only I can see the other and all that the other is, not as a means for me to extol my own value, but as a means to build that kind of trust that recognizes that whereas each is nobody, yet, we are all somebody. More than that, we ought to take each other and our actions seriously - however insignificant we think they may be.
The beauty of this particular season is wrapped in an ambitious undertaking, one in which God Himself takes on everything human for the sake of humans. God’s ambitious agenda is one of making you and me so valuable, irrespective of who we are, where we come from, or our station in life. God’s agenda is one of making you know that you matter to Him. God’s agenda is one of making you and I know that we are nobody, and yet we are somebody because God chooses to make us somebody.
Paul, in a description of his ministry relative to that of the other apostles, writes eloquently: For I am the least of the apostles and am unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not in vain. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. What you and I believe is the good news of a God who dared to be human.
The fascinating gift of Paul’s narrative is that although he recognizes that he’s worked more than the other apostles, it wasn’t by his own effort - it was by the grace of God that was with him, and that grace made it possible for him to do the kind of work that he was able to do. The same grace is available to you and can fire you up to do any work of ministry that you are willing to do.
There’s no telling how many of us feel like the rabbi, crying “I am nobody”. There’s no telling how many of us feel like the cantor, crying “I am nobody.” There is no telling how many of us feel like the janitor who joined the rabbi and cantor, crying “I am nobody.”
The true gift is - irrespective of how you feel - that you are the reason why this Christmas and every Christmas is so important; although you are nobody, because of Christ Jesus, you are somebody. Because of God’s infinite love made possible in the incarnation, you are somebody.
Remember, if you are somebody because of Christ Jesus, then you cannot behave like the cantor who looks down on the janitor because he joined him on the floor with cries of being nobody.
Christmas is about the grace of being somebody.
Come, let’s celebrate.