Following is an approximate transcription, with some development, of vocal ministry I offered on 12/24/17 at Homewood Friends Meeting. Please note that scriptural passages, although enclosed in quotation marks, may be paraphrased (even playfully so).
It took a very long time for me to recognize and begin to accept that the primary law of the spiritual life is simply this: “it’s not about me.” I don’t mean “law” in the sense of a prohibition or prescription, like a moral rule, but as a description, like a law of science. Like the law of gravity, it’s always true, always in effect. We can live in ignorance or denial of it, but when we do, we unwittingly hurt ourselves and others.
It occurs to me this morning, on this day before the day the world calls Christmas, that the story of the Nativity, when read in the Quaker manner as a parable of the present, illustrates the working of that principle. I’m thinking particularly of an early scene in Luke’s tale, a scene called the Annunciation.
An angel tells the young Mary that God has elected her to be the means whereby divine love will be enfleshed in the human world. As a parabolic character, Mary represents us. She is a normal human being, which means that she is, by nature as it were, self-centered, self-enclosed. So she asks, in effect: “How can that happen? I’m alone; it’s just me.” The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will overtake you, and the power of God will overshadow you.”
“The Holy Spirit will overtake you.” The verb rendered as “overtake” is most often used in scripture in conjunction with calamity, as when one is overtaken by a serious disease, the death of a loved one, the apocalyptic end of the world as one knows it. That’s what it means for the normal human being to be visited by the Holy Spirit: one’s enclosure is broken open, one’s heart is exposed. “And the power of God will overshadow you.” To be overshadowed is to lose one’s significance.
Mary understands, and she yields her will to her master’s. “I am the slave of God,” she says; “let it be done to me.” The verb is passive, and the English preposition to is quite appropriate: let it be done to me, not for me, with me, or even in me, and certainly not by me. It’s not about me.
Jesus will consistently teach that same principle (although we try hard to find loopholes in his words), as will the Apostle Paul after him. Paul expresses it poetically in his letter to the Philippians. “Let the same disposition be in you,” he writes, “that is in Jesus Messiah. Instead of claiming equality with God, he makes himself of no significance, accepts the form of a slave, human form, and humbles himself, obedient even unto death.”
This is my wish and hope: may the Holy Spirit overtake us, and the power of God-who-is-love overshadow us, that, blessedly broken open and insignificant, we may be used by love for its coming into the human world through our surrender.